Opponents of Missouri congressional candidate Ann Wagner claim Enterprise Rent-A-Car is buying House seat

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
Font Size:

In her quest to represent Missouri’s Second Congressional District, former Republican National Committee co-chair Ann Wagner is hauling in more money than any other non-incumbent running for Congress. But her political opponents say the election is for sale, and one company is buying: Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Wagner raised $532,000 for her campaign during the third quarter of 2011. Politico reported in October that $108,000 came from Enterprise executives — including Wagner’s husband, Raymond Wagner, who is Enterprise’s government and public affairs vice president and a registered lobbyist.

Missouri tea party activists contend that their research shows the amount of money coming from individuals associated with Enterprise was actually $202,750 in the third quarter, approximately 38 percent of all quarterly donations and nearly twice the reported figure.

The St. Louis Tea Party, with which some of those researcher-activists are associated, is itself divided. Some members support Wagner, and others support her Republican primary opponent Ed Martin.

Wagner’s opponents scoured FEC filings and compiled a list of donations made by spouses of Enterprise employees, as well as those made by individuals employed by holding groups and subsidiaries of the rental car company. Their research included cross-referencing Wagner’s donors with a similar donor list of the Enterprise Political Action Committee.

Many of the spouses’ donations were “reattributions,” or contributions legally re-assigned to the spouse because a primary donor contributed more than the FEC limit. But other contributions came from spouses of employees who did not donate on their own. (SEE ALSO: Huntsman’s website: Double the donation with one for your spouse)

The individuals who compiled the information have asked to remain anonymous. They contend that donors to Wagner’s campaign may have intentionally disguised their association with Enterprise, pointing to 47 instances where the spouse of an employee donated while the employee did not. The calculated total for these donations was slightly more than $56,000.

The Wagner campaign does not specifically track the employers of donors or their spouses, but maintains that there is nothing wrong with money being raised from individuals associated with Enterprise.

“As just a part of over 1,100 contributions Ann has received in this campaign, a number of contributions came from Enterprise workers and their spouses because they know Ann personally, trust her leadership and judgment, and know that she will be a strong and effective member of Congress,” Wagner campaign manager Aaron Willard told The Daily Caller.

Jonathan Burns, a member of the St. Louis Tea Party, disagrees. “We don’t believe a single company should be able to purchase a congressional seat,” Burns told TheDC.

Charts compiled by the Missouri political blog 24thstate.com indicate that Enterprise-related donations to Wagner far outpace those to other Missouri politicians. The company is headquartered in St. Louis and has annual revenues of $10.1 billion.

Enterprise has lobbied Congress in the past on a variety of issues. The role of Wagner’s husband as a company lobbyist may present conflicts of interest if she is elected to Congress.

In 2008 Enterprise requested bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, writing to Congress to ask for funds. According to the Wall Street Journal, language was inserted in the TARP bill by House lawmakers to enable the government to grant loans to rental car companies.

Mr. Wagner testified before Congress as recently as June 2010 on behalf of Enterprise, requesting that Congress limit the power of state and local governments to apply excise taxes on rental cars.

Before seeking election to Congress, Ann Wagner served as chair of the Missouri Republican Party, from 1999 to 2005, and as Ambassador to Luxembourg, from 2005 to 2009. This year she ran unsuccessfully for chair of the Republican National Committee, where she was co-chair from 1999 to 2005.

Martin, Wagner’s opponent  in the primary, was the GOP nominee in Missouri’s Third Congressional District in 2010, and narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan. Recent elections in the Second Congressional District indicate that the Republican candidate is likely to win the race to succeed Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Follow Steven on Twitter