Chairing Space Subcommittee attracts campaign cash for Miss. congressman

Steven Palazzo waves to supporters at Destiny Plantation in Biloxi, Miss., after winning the Republican primary for the 4th congressional seat on Tuesday June 3, 2014. (John Fitzhugh/Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT)
Steven Palazzo waves to supporters at Destiny Plantation in Biloxi, Miss., after winning the Republican primary for the 4th congressional seat on Tuesday June 3, 2014. (John Fitzhugh/Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT) Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT

As chairman of a House Science and Technology Committee panel over the last four years, Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi has been a vocal advocate of U.S. space exploration, calling for the resumption of manned flights.

That stand has served his re-election campaign well, too, bringing a pile of cash that helped him stave off a primary challenge last spring.

From Jan. 1, 2013, through Sept. 30 of this year, the chairman of the Space Subcommittee has collected at least $73,000 from political action committees and employees for aerospace contractors. Among them is a PAC for Tesla creator Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corp., founded with the goal of colonizing Mars.

The out-of-state donations are in keeping with Palazzo’s overall fundraising pattern as he closes in on winning a third term in office. More than half of the $882,620 he collected through Sept. 30 came from PACs representing special interests, nearly all of them from outside Mississippi, a computer-assisted McClatchy analysis of his donations found.

Only $13,731, or 1.5 percent of his total, came in small donations – those under $200.

The percentage of small donors “is far, far lower than we usually see, even with incumbents, who tend to get less of their money in small donations than challengers do,” said Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington-based group that tracks campaign fundraising.

“Voters might want to pay attention to that and the large amount of out-of-state money as well,” she said. “Big corporate political action committees and donors are attracted to incumbents because they usually win. And you want to be on the winning side.”

Asked about his donations, Palazzo issued a statement that sidestepped those issues.

“I’m proud and humbled to receive such overwhelming support from so many of my constituents, individuals and businesses, and I will continue to work hard every day to earn that support and best represent the people of South Mississippi in Congress,” he said.

Palazzo fended off a challenge from Republican former Rep. Gene Taylor in a primary election battle and is considered a shoo-in to win next month’s general election. He faces four challengers: Democrat Matt Moore, independents Cindy Burleson and Ed Reich, Reform Party candidate Eli Jackson and Libertarian candidate Joey Robinson.

So far, the congressman’s re-election campaign has raised nearly as much money as he garnered in winning a second term in 2012.

Palazzo has reaped donations from political action committees for an array of space contractors, including the maximum $10,000 each from Virginia-based Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, California-based Northrop Grumman Corp. and Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp.

Other aerospace PAC donations included $9,000 from Chicago-based Boeing Co., $8,500 from Massachusetts-based Raytheon Corp., $6,000 from Musk’s California-based Space Exploration Technologies; $5,500 from California-based Gencorp., the owner of Aerojet Rocketdyne; $5,000 from the Virginia-based U.S. subsidiary of Intelsat, S.A., $4,500 from Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. and $2,000 from the British-American Airbus Group, formerly known as EADS.

Executives of Pioneer Aerospace, a firm based in Columbia, Miss., whose products include parachutes used in space exploration, chipped in $2,500.

Among Palazzo’s biggest concentrations of money from a single employer is, not surprisingly, giant Mississippi Gulf Coast shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries. Besides $10,000 in political action committee donations, its executives and employees chipped in another $5,000 in direct donations. The Shipbuilders Council of America’s PAC donated $1,000.

An accountant, Palazzo also has benefited from lots of high-dollar donations from colleagues in his profession, as he has in the past.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ PAC contributed $7,999, hosting a fundraiser last February. PACs and employees of other accounting firms gave him more than $29,000.

Palazzo got more than $6,000 in donations from PACs for the National Rifle Association and the Safari Club International, representing the gun lobby. He received $2,500 from the PAC for Koch Industries, led by brothers Charles and David Koch, who are seeking to advance their libertarian philosophy by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into trying to regain Republican control of the U.S. Senate.