Barack Obama’s Moneyed State of the Union Guests

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StateOfTheUnionJan2011.jpgBY ZACHARY NEWKIRK – Ever since President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 State of the Union speech, presidents have given shout-outs to ordinary Americans in these annual addresses.

The honorees typically sit near the first lady to watch it. And Tuesday night, two of the guests invited by President Barack Obama to watch with his wife were business executives who have also been heavily involved in the world of money in politics.

The honorees in question? Ursula Burns, the chief executive officer of Xerox Corp., and Wendell Weeks, the chairman and CEO of Corning Inc., the New York-based glass and ceramics manufacturer.


The companies represented by Burns and Weeks are both major lobbying forces in Washington, D.C., and each executive has personally donated tens of thousands of dollars to their preferred candidates, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

When it comes to the personal politics of Burns and Weeks, however, they aren’t always on the same wave length. And Weeks, in particular, doesn’t always agree politically with the man who invited him to sit in such a lofty perch.

Since 1989, Weeks, along with his wife, Kim, have donated $83,500 to federal candidates and committees, according to the Center’s analysis. Of that sum, 45 percent has benefited Republicans. Just 25 percent has directly benefited Democrats. The other 30 percent has flowed into Corning’s political action committee.

The top partisan beneficiaries of the Weeks’ personal cash over the years include:

In fact, Corning was the largest contributor to Kuhl over his career, giving nearly $185,000 between its PAC and individual employees, according to the Center’s research.

Other Republicans have benefited from the Corning PAC’s money too, including a $10,000 donation during the 2010 election cycle to the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, which supports candidates who share the “ideals of fiscal responsibility and limited government.”

The Corning PAC, however, has mostly supported Democrats.

During the 2010 election cycle, the PAC doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal politicians, with about two-thirds of the contributions aiding Democrats. It donated the legal maximum of $10,000 to three New York Democrats including ex-Rep. Eric Massa and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

The company, internationally noted for its glass and ceramics, is perhaps lesser known for its lobbying efforts, but it nevertheless invested $1.28 million on federal lobbying in 2010.

Meanwhile, Xerox, the Fortune 500 document management company that makes printers, copiers and other products, spent $1.02 million on federal lobbying during 2010. Like Corning, the company PAC has also mainly padded the campaign coffers of Democratic politicians — although to a lesser extent.

The PAC only doled out tens of thousands of dollars — not hundreds of thousands like Corning — during the past election cycle. But its recipients were also mainly members of the New York delegation, including former Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Gillibrand and Schumer.

Burns, who was named the CEO of Xerox in July 2009, meanwhile, has herself personally contributed $30,450 to federal politicians and committees over the years, according to the Center’s research. Since her first known federal-level contributions in December 2003, Burns has donated $26,750 to Democrats, about 88 percent of her total giving. The other 12 percent of contributions represent the amount she’s donated to Xerox’s PAC.

Obama himself received the legal maximum of $4,600 from Burns during his 2008 presidential bid, but his primary rival Hillary Clinton actually has received more from Burns over the years.

Clinton is the top federal-level beneficiary of Burns’ money, receiving $10,600 since 2004.

Other notable beneficiaries include Slaughter, who received $8,000, ex-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who received $2,300, and Schumer, who received $1,000.

Among the other honored attendees, Robert Allen of Michigan — who owns and operates a roofing products manufacturing company with his brother Gary Allen — also contributed to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign war chest.

Robert Allen gave Obama $208 on Sept. 9, 2008. (A year later, he gave Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) $1,000 — his only other known federal-level campaign contribution, according to the Center’s research.)

Obama commended Robert and Gary Allen in his 2011 State of the Union speech for their pioneering work in solar shingles — made possible thanks to $500,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a., the stimulus), which Obama signed into law in 2009.

Center for Responsive Politics researcher Carolyn Sharpe and research intern Gary Wong contributed to this report.



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The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking and reporting on money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Center aims to create a more educated voter, an involved citizenry and a more responsive government. The Center's award-winning website,, is the most comprehensive resource for campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere. The Center relies on support from a combination of foundation grants, individual contributions and custom research services. The Center accepts no contributions from businesses, labor unions or trade associations.