Rep. Hal Rogers May Not Feel Effects of Halted PAC Funding
This article is part of a special series produced by Murray State University students participating in an investigative reporting fellowship partnership with WKMS.
On January 6, a group of pro-Trump Americans stormed the Capitol building, forcing a recess just as certification of the 2020 presidential election results began.
Even members of Congress who empathized with the rioters, and planned to challenge the election results on their own, evacuated as rioters damaged property, threatened politicians and fatally injured a Capitol Police officer. Representatives and their staff, including Hal Rogers of Kentucky, sheltered in undisclosed locations.
“Violence is never the answer,” Rogers said in a tweet as rioters roamed the Capitol looking for Rogers and his colleagues. “I am appalled to see Americans storming the Capitol in an effort to disrupt our very foundation of democracy. I believe every voice should be heard, but violent methods fall on deaf ears.”
Rogers was among the Republican lawmakers who planned to vote to overturn the presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
After returning to their chambers, some representatives changed their minds on the matter, but not Rogers. The representative from Eastern Kentucky was one of 147 Republicans who held firm on voting against the election results when certification concluded January 7, despite their experiences during the previous 24 hours.
Rogers did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In a statement explaining his vote to challenge the certification of election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Rogers said he noticed from voters across the country a lack of confidence about the presidential election. Election officials and Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr said the election was secure from widespread voter fraud. Rogers was the only Kentucky congressperson who voted to overturn the results.
In response, 20 of the biggest corporate PACs ceased support for these Republicans or temporarily suspended donations to politicians altogether. Boeing said the decision was in response to the “violence, lawlessness and destruction” at the Capitol.
“We will continue to carefully evaluate future contributions to ensure that we support those who not only support our company, but also uphold our country’s most fundamental principles,” Boeing said in a statement regarding its decision to halt PAC funding.
According to an analysis of data from theCenter for Responsive Politics, Rogers received $78,000 last year from the corporate PACs that have since decided to halt funding. Since 1998, he has received $827,550 from the same group of PACs. Small individual contributions made up just 0.10% of his funding.
While the withdrawal of funding may look like a hefty blow on paper, Western Kentucky University political science department head Scott Lasley suggests Rogers’ vote may impact him very little — or perhaps even strengthen him — when running for reelection, due to his district’s strong support for former President Donald Trump.
“His district is about as safe for Republicans a district could be,” Lasley said.
Who is Hal Rogers?
Serving since 1981, Rogers is the representative of Kentucky’s fifth Congressional district, the second-poorest district in the U.S. located in the eastern part of the commonwealth. The district as a whole leans heavily Republican with pockets of historical Democratic support.
Rogers won the most recent election in 2020 with 84.2% of the vote, according to previous reporting by the New York Times. Democrat Matthew Best secured only 15.8% of the vote.
A few months later, during his 21st consecutive term in Congress, Rogers voted to challenge the results of the presidential election.
Rumors of his retirement have circulated as recently as July 2019, but at this time, there is no indication Rogers will step down from politics.
Corporate sponsors who are retracting support and gave to Rogers’ 2020 campaign include Honeywell International, Northrop Grumman, Boeing Co., and Raytheon Technologies, the largest donors at $10,000 each. These donors gave Rogers 38.46% of his total fundraising in 2020.
These donations are not surprising considering Rogers has served on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense since 2016 and all four companies have ties to the defense industry, which benefits from contracts doled out by that committee. Rogers’ career-long membership in the House Appropriations Committee has made him especially attractive to corporate PACs in general.
The United Parcel Service (UPS) gave Rogers $5,500 last year through their PAC. In 2016 — a year in which UPS donated $10,000 to his campaign — Rogers attended a ribbon cutting for expansion of a UPS center into London, Kentucky. At that time, he celebrated the 50 jobs brought to Laurel County.
General PAC contributions comprised 60.45% of Rogers’ funding in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of those contributions, most — nearly 86% — were business PACs. Ideological PACs contributed about 9%, and labor PACs contributed more than 5%.
Most of his non-PAC funding that same year came from large individual contributions greater than $200. Just 0.1% was small individual contributions of less than $200. None of his funding came from self-financing.
Despite the promised drop in funds for his next election, most political observers say Rogers will do fine without the support of corporate PACs. In fact, Rogers’ staying power in Eastern Kentucky is such that he may not have required the withdrawn donations.
Rogers’ district heavily favored former President Trump. His biggest challenge is not a Democrat but a strong Republican primary candidate, according to Lasley of Western Kentucky University.
“An incumbent that’s been entrenched for so long, you don’t need a lot of money to run for reelection,” Lasley said. “Is it nice to have resources in case the situation presents itself and you need to spend money? Yeah, it is, but overall, the average incumbent can spend very little.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful pro-business lobbying organization, recently gave corporate PACs a convenient escape route should they decide to continue political donations.
In a statement released March 5, the Chamber said it does not believe it is “appropriate” to judge congresspeople based on their votes on the electoral certification.
Given the Chamber’s widespread influence, its reevaluation of support could set a precedent for corporate PACs to follow.
Republican Gerardo Serrano attempted to unseat Rogers in 2020 by running on a firmly conservative platform and decrying many of Rogers’ spending decisions. Serrano is best known for his 2017 lawsuit against the U.S. government for the civil forfeiture of his truck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The candidate raised $45,395 in 2020, mostly self-financed, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Individual donations comprised about 3%. When he ran against Rogers in 2018, Serrano raised $24,938, 91.76% of which was self-financed. He received no PAC funding in either election.
Serrano is confident Rogers will persist largely unscathed.
“He’ll find other money,” Serrano said. “Don’t worry about it. He’ll find other money.”
In addition to Rogers’ financial security, Serrano echoed the appraisal that his district’s political leanings will improve Rogers’ chances of reelection.
“In this district, we worship Trump,” he said. “I don’t worship Trump, but in this district, they worship Trump.”
Serrano described many of Rogers’ actions as “hypocritical” and “corrupt.” That includes Rogers’ January vote to overturn the election results when Serrano argues Rogers was involved in a different sort of election tampering here in Kentucky.
“He wanted to talk about ‘They [Democrats] stole the [presidential] election,’” Serrano said. “Why didn’t anybody here talk about what he did here in the fifth district? … Why didn’t you talk about everybody voting in the building that he named after himself?”
The Hal Rogers Fire Training Center was one of the locations at which Pulaski County residents could cast their votes during the congressional election. Serrano says he was not allowed to put a sign near this building, which is adorned with Rogers’ name in large black letters.
Other polling locations bearing Rogers’ name included the Mountain Art Center on Hal Rogers Drive in Prestonsburg and the North Laurel High School Gym on Hal Rogers Parkway in London.
Murray State University's Journalism and Mass Communications department and WKMS News collaborated to create an investigative reporting fellowship program in partnership with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Four Murray State students dedicated a semester of learning to the program. This article is a product of that learning experience.