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PAC contributions are down, Sen. Chris Dodd's prospects too

April 7, 2009 |  9:29 am

Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut

There are all kinds of markers that economists use to measure a recession's holding power.

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan liked to check in with cardboard manufacturers. If people were buying boxes, he figured, it meant they were moving or shipping or otherwise helping the economy.

Today the Wall Street Journal offered a new marker: contributions to corporate political action committees.

According to the newspaper, contributions to politicians from company PACs fell 6% to $8.2 million in the first two months of the year, compared with the same period in 2007. That's a change from big increases in corporate PAC donations at the start of the last three election cycles.

Of course maybe corporate donors are fiscally and emotionally drained after the most expensive presidential campaign in history.

Maybe they're not feeling the love. Congress has been using Wall Street as a scapegoat lately, targeting corporate greed and executive bonuses.

In any event, in addition to PACs giving less money to candidates, the management-level employees who pool their contributions into PACs for bigger impact also slowed their giving with a 14% decline in employee contributions to $16.5 million in January and February, compared with the same period in 2007.

Which can't be good news for Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, described by political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg this morning as potentially "the most vulnerable senator up for re-election in 2010."

In recent days, Dodd has been forced to return tainted contributions from Ponzi schemer R. Allen Stanford and to explain why he protected AIG executives' bonuses in the $787-billion stimulus plan. The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and No. 1 recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also had to acknowledge a special-favor loan from Countrywide Financial, saying he had no idea it was special.

Plus, he rankled some voters in the Nutmeg State (which maybe should change its slogan to Hedge Fund Heaven) by moving his young family to Iowa for a year so he could run for president, an exercise that won him one delegate in the Iowa caucuses.

The race is far from over -- Dodd's hired a top campaign manager and is usually a prodigious fundraiser -- but Rothenberg sees "a darkening cloud" over Dodd's head and predicts, "He'll have the fight of his life next year when he seeks his sixth consecutive term in the Senate."

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Getty Images