A recent article in the Casper Star Tribune said, “Few were surprised last week when Sen. Mike Enzi announced his retirement.
Enzi has served more than two decades in Washington, after all, and it was expected that the 75-year-old statesman wouldn’t have much of an appetite for another campaign, followed, presumably, by six more years of constant travel and fundraising.
What caught many by surprise was the timing. Made roughly 18 months out from election day, Enzi’s announcement comes much sooner than has been traditional in Wyoming politics.”
Later, that same article goes on to say that “Enzi’s decision to leave politics could set in motion what could be one of the wildest races for the Senate ever seen in Equality State politics.”
That means that any campaign backers with the potential for exerting influence over Senator Enzi will drift away towards a candidate heading into, rather than away from, office. Yet, it does beg the question of where his campaign’s financial supporters will go. After all, he has been criticized about his heavy backing by PACs.
In a 2013 article from ABC News, it was noted that “Republican Vice President Dick Cheney slammed the man his daughter Liz Cheney is challenging for his Wyoming Senate seat – Republican Sen. Mike Enzi – calling out the three-term senator for his political fundraising.” Mr. Cheney said that people should look at the issue, explaining, “Mike has a record, if you go back and review his finances, of getting about 84 percent of his campaign funds from Washington-based PACs. That’s more than any senator of either party. He doesn’t get much money from Wyoming.”
Whether you agree with Mr. Cheney that out of state funding, and particularly heavy PAC support, is questionable, it is a point that has to be considered. Why? Because PACs and SuperPACs are now viewed in a less than favorable manner due to their strong associations with “dark money”.
This is, quite plainly, funding that comes from unknown sources, and in huge amounts. It is usually channeled through PACs and is thought to be a form of influence on many politicians. However, dark money is also about expenditures by large groups towards the election of a candidate
Recent changes in U.S. campaign finance laws have made it relatively easy for outside sources to wield influence in almost any election. While many accept that influence-peddling is not a new issue in American politics. It is still not altogether common.
Perhaps this is why the difficulties in identifying it made so many watchdogs react strongly to changes in IRS rules. These changes mean itthey “no longer requires some 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofits — including politically active 501(c)(4) ‘dark money’ groups — to disclose donor names and addresses in tax returns submitted to the IRS,” according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics. And it means that it can be nearly impossible to determine where tens of millions of dollars originate, which is one reason why Mr. Cheney felt compelled to point out Senator Enzi’s large number of PAC contributions.
On top of it all is the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which is viewed as problematic by many. This ruling, from 2010, was the one in which the Court held that “the free speech clause of the first amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations from making political expenditures,” opening the door to corporate money enjoying an easier way to influence an election.
PACs and SuperPACs differ in only a few ways. PACs can give to parties or candidates, while SuperPACs can only spend (unlimited sums) on marketing and ads. They are unlimited in the amounts they can accept, as well.
Campaign finance watchdogssay, “spending of this kind (in which groups did not reveal their donors) climbed rapidly from five million dollars in the year 2006 to more than three hundred million dollars in 2012.” The amounts given are not from the “traditionally wealth,” but from mega-rich, who are “effectively in control of American politics, writing six- and seven-figure checks to super PAC’s to support ad campaigns that confuse viewers and distort the views and records of candidates,” as one source said.
They may not make bold moves, such as lobbying directly to interfere with specific policies, but as another expert pointed out, they might use influence for “subtle things that are less top of mind, less likely to be in the news — some amendment tucked into a larger bill…[and] greater access for friendly lobbyists.”
As those who have attempted it know, it can be difficult to find all forms of influence easily, and when a politician is retiring, many think it is unnecessary. However, we disagree. It is necessary to scrutinize even the most durable and long-established senators for any indications of influence because their replacements may find themselves under similar pressures.
To do this means examining a list of different facts about them. For example, who supports them the most, what types of legislation does that senator sponsor or support? By comparing such points, it becomes easier to find signs of influence.
And influences over Senator Enzi is what we’ll try to spot in this article, and to do that we are going to look at a few additional sets of information in our evaluation. They are:
- The Senator’s publicly stated priorities and issues
- Senator Enzi’s committee and caucus activities
- The Senator’s key sources of campaign funding
- Senator Enzi’s most recent legislative items sponsored or co-sponsored
We are also going to examine other data, including bipartisanship ratings, conservative rankings, and more, to reach conclusions.
For example, Senator Enzi rates quite low for a popular Republican in the Lugar Center Bipartisanship Index, holding the 77th place. What this means is simple: legislation he creates typically doesn’t attract much support from Democrats, and he doesn’t often support their legislative items. His “Trump Score” from FiveThirtyEight for the 116th Congress is up from the previous Congress, and hovers at 94%, meaning that he supports President Trump’s policies, almost always. The Conservative Review, however, strongly disapproves of the Senator, giving him a numeric Liberty Score of 65% and a letter grade of “D.” His approval ratings in the Senate are quite high, with a rank of 7th out of 100 senators and a net approval of 29.
About Senator John Enzi
Born in 1944 in Wyoming, he graduated from George Washing University with a degree in accounting and went on to get an MBA from the University of Denver. He did service in the Wyoming Air National Guard, too, and worked in a family business for many years. In 1974, however, he began a career in politics by winning the mayoral election for his home city. He then worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior, and next won a seat in his state’s House of Representatives. He moved on to the state Senate, and in 1996 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which is a seat he has held ever since.
At his official website, he says that he “has made a name on Capitol Hill for his unique way of breaking down party lines and working across the aisle. Enzi believes that people can agree on 80 percent of the issues 80 percent of the time and if they leave the other 20 percent out, they can get a lot done.” He has been able to pass more than 100 bills in his tenure, and he has spent much of his career focused on reducing national debt, controlling spending and following a budget.
He is very proud having “led the budget resolution that allowed Congress to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. That bill reduced tax rates to the lowest in more than 30 years, allowed hundreds of companies to raise salaries or issue bonuses and repealed the Obamacare requirement that ever American buy a specific type of health insurance or pay a tax penalty.”
The issues he has identified as most significant to his constituents include:
- Energy/Minerals/Land Management
- Environment/Climate Change
- Foreign Relations
- Government Affairs
- Health care
- Homeland Security
- Judiciary/Gun Control/Law Enforcement
- Indian Affairs
- Pensions/Retirement Savings
- Public Lands
- Small Business
- Social Security
- Veterans Affairs
The journalist group ProPublica evaluates politicians and monitors how they vote, the most common subjects of bills they sponsor and even what issues are the most common in their press releases. They have identified that Senator Enzi focuses on the following items in his legislation:
- Finance and Financial Sector
- Economics and Public Finance
- Public Lands and Natural Resources
The press releases around his policy priorities overlap somewhat, and in ranking order emphasize:
- Economics and Public Finance
- Public Lands and Natural Resources
- Environmental Protection
The Senator has always been quite clear about his priorities while in the Senate, and that means we have to next explore the other areas of his work and what he does with the authority it brings him to determine any influence.
Senator Enzi’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Enzi is assigned to the following committees and subcommittees:
- Committee on Finance
- Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure
- Subcommittee on Health Care
- Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight
- Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
- Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security (Chairman)
- Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management
- Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management
- Committee on the Budget (Chairman)
- Joint Committee on Taxation
He is also remarkably active in caucuses, and is a member of:
- Sportsman’s Caucus
- Senate Rural Education Caucus — Co-Chair
- Creative Communications Council
- Farmer Cooperative Caucus
- Sugar Caucus
- S. Congressional Internet Caucus
- Senate Air Force Caucus
- Missile States Coalition
- Senate Cuba Working Group — Cofounder
- S.-Russia Legislative Working Group on Nonproliferation — Founder
- National Guard Caucus
- C-130 Modernization Caucus
- Senate Cultural Caucus
- 4-H Caucus
- Senate Republican Capital Markets Task Force
- Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus
- Congressional Multiple Sclerosis Caucus
- Senate High Tech Task Force
- Senate Nanotechnology Caucus
- Congressional Caucus on CPAs and Accountants — Co-Chair (with Sen. Ron Johnson)
- Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus
- Senate 2nd Amendment Caucus
- Senate Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus
- Senate Western Caucus
- Senate Rural Health Caucus
- Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus
- Senate Impact Air Coalition –Co-Chair
- Senate Community College Caucus
- Congressional Heart and Stroke Coalition
- Congressional Former Mayor Caucus
- Congressional Coalition on Adoption
- Coalition for Autism Research and Education
- Senate Caucus on WMD Terrorism
With all of this we see tremendous amounts of overlap aligning with his clearly-established priorities. It pays to compare all of this against the details of his campaign backers.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Enzi Campaign Efforts
In 2014, Senator Enzi’s campaign raised $3,772,045.00 and spent $3,486,953.00, leaving more than $866k on hand. This support came from an array of industries, and we’ll look at those contributors in three distinct groupings:
- The industries in which the Senator was a “favorite,” or top recipient in the last campaign cycle (2014)
- The industries that contributed the most substantial amount of financial support
- Individual organizations that donated the most
According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Enzi was not an industry favorite in within any major segments. He did, however, get backing from other industries, and the 20 sectors that gave the most, overall, in 2014 were (in ranking order):
- Leadership PACs
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Health Professionals
- Oil & Gas
- Securities & Investment
- Retail Sales
- Real Estate
- Health Services/HMOs
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing
- Electric Utilities
- Commercial Banks
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes
- Food & Beverage
There were also the top companies and other groups that gave, individually, the most rather than by industry. None of donated directly to the campaign, instead, they worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions for the 2014 election, and were:
- DaVita Inc – “Provides kidney dialysis services through a network of 2,664 outpatient dialysis centers in the United States, serving 202,700 patients, and 241 outpatient dialysis centers in other countries”
- Peabody Energy – “The largest private-sector coal company in the world. Its primary business consists of the mining, sale, and distribution of coal, which is purchased for use in electricity generation and steelmaking. Peabody also markets, brokers, and trades coal through offices in China, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”
- Comcast Corp – “An American telecommunications conglomerate headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is the second-largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world.”
- NorPAC – “A bipartisan, multi-candidate political action committee (PAC) working to strengthen United States support for Israel.”
- National Assn of Broadcasters – “A trade association and lobby group representing the interests of commercial and non-commercial over-the-air radio and television broadcasters in the United States. The NAB represents more than 8,300 terrestrial radio and television stations as well as broadcast networks.”
- Putnam Investments – A “privately owned investment management firm founded in 1937 by George Putnam, who established one of the first balanced mutual funds, The George Putnam Fund of Boston. As one of the oldest mutual fund complexes in the United States, Putnam has over $183 billion in assets under management, 79 individual mutual fund offerings, 96 institutional clients, and over seven million shareholders and retirement plan participants.”
- Making Business Excel PAC – Wyoming based PAC affiliated with Senator Enzi
- Citizens for Prosperity in America Today- A “libertarian/conservative political advocacy group in the United States funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch. As the Koch brothers’ primary political advocacy group, it is one of the most influential American conservative organizations.”
- Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance – “An American financial services mutual organization based in Milwaukee. The financial security company provides consultation on wealth and asset income protection, education planning, retirement planning, investment advisory services, trust and private client services, estate planning and business planning. Its products include life insurance, disability income, and long-term care insurance; annuities; investments; and investment advisory products and services.”
- Marathon Oil – “An American petroleum and natural gas exploration and production company headquartered in the Marathon Oil Tower in Houston, Texas.”
As we can see, Mr. Cheney had a point – three PACs and no in-state businesses offer their support. But that is not proof that his policies are influenced by any of the entities above. To determine that means looking at the legislation itself.
9 Items Senator Enzi Has Sponsored During the 116th Congress – To Date
For the 116th Congress, to date, Senator Enzihas 116 pieces of legislation; he sponsored 24 thus far and co-sponsored the remaining 92. The Senator’s official Congressional page indicates that his emphasis in this Congress has been primarily on health, finance, economics, animals, and arts, culture and religion.
Introduced on January 28, and based on the idea that “students and parents deserve to know the true cost of federal loans,” this bicameral legislation “would improve the information provided to students and families taking on federal loans to finance higher education,” according to a press release from Senator Enzi.
If passed into law, the bill would “require disclosure of the annual percentage rate (APR) for federal student loans. The APR assists borrowers by showing the true cost of a loan, helping students and their families make more informed financial decisions. Currently, borrowers of private student loans receive this information, but borrowers of loans issued by the Department of Education do not.”
Several groups have endorsed this bill, including the Consumer Banker Association, Education Finance Council and Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority. When speaking of it, Senator Enzi said “Borrowers of federal student loans need transparent information when considering loan options and federal student loans should have to be upfront about their true costs. This bill would provide more transparency so families can be better informed about their financing options.”
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
This bicameral legislation was introduced on January 30, to “ensure that faith-based institutions and individuals can continue to provide child welfare services for those who need them.” According to a press release from Senator Enzi’s office, for “decades, adoption and foster care providers – secular, government-operated and faith-based – have worked side-by-side to serve infants, expectant mothers, adoptive and foster families, children, teens and families under economic and emotional pressure. There are some states, along with Obama era federal regulations, that are preventing faith-based organizations from providing welfare services in a way that does not conflict with their faith.
The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 would prevent providers of child welfare services from being excluded from offering these services based on their religious beliefs.”
Explaining the need for this legislation, Senator Enzi said, “The decision to adopt or foster a child isn’t always an easy decision, but it is one of the most loving choices a family can make. That is why it is so important that adoptive and foster parents have access to the provider of their choice. The government should not be in the business of forcing faith-based child welfare providers to abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially at the expense of finding a new home for a child in need
With 18 cosponsors, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
In a press release titled, “States deserve a seat at the table when listing species as endangered,” Senator Enzi’s office laid out why this bill (introduced on February 14) is necessary. It begins, “If a federal agency is going to list a species as endangered, they are supposed to utilize the best scientific and commercial data available. But Congressional hearings have revealed numerous examples of agencies failing to follow these rules.”
To address the issue, Senator Enzi along with the bill’s cosponsors, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho and Pat Roberts of Kansas, created this bill. It would, “require the federal government to disclose the data it uses for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings. It would also ensure that ESA decisions are more reliant on the input of state, local and tribal studies.”
Speaking about it before Congress, Senator Enzi said, “When an animal is categorized as an endangered species, it is the states and local communities that are most impacted, but currently they can’t verify, dispute or complement the information federal agencies use. This legislation would ensure that state, local and tribal entities would have a seat at the table when federal agencies are proposing regulations that could have significant ramifications. Wyoming has some of the richest wildlife habitat in the world, and that is why we should encourage an open process that relies on the best data available.”
Senator Risch echoed the title of the press release, saying “We need to put states and local communities back in the driver’s seat when it comes to the wildlife conservation and management efforts that so greatly affect them. By incorporating on the ground information and decision-makers, this legislation makes important strides in that effort.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
This bipartisan bill was introduced on February 25 in order to “ensure that those traveling with a properly secured knife are not prosecuted under local or state laws which ban certain knives.”
Essentially, the bill would “provide safe harbor to Americans traveling with a knife where it is lawful for the knife to be possessed at both the points of origin and destination, so long as the knife is transported in a closed container. This legislation is based on the Firearms Owner Protection Act of 1986, which provides the same protection to law-abiding gun owners,” according to a press release from Senator Enzi’s office.
Explaining the need for it, he said, “I understand that knives are an essential tool for many folks in Wyoming and around the country. This common-sense legislation would ensure that if you’re traveling from point A to point C with a knife that is legal in both locations, you should not have to worry about going through point B. Knife owners should not be charged with a crime for simply passing through.”
The bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 161.
Introduced on February 28, this bicameral bill “directs the Department of the Interior to re-issue its delisting decision and prohibits further judicial review of this decision,” as noted in a press release from Senator Enzi’s office.
Speaking of the Act, he said, “It’s clear that under the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region are fully recovered, that they should be delisted and management returned to the states. I have been working on this issue for over 20 years, and we already knew back then that grizzly bears had already fully recovered. Unfortunately, we have seen environmental groups take advantage of the court system in the face of wildlife management experts and the science presented before us. Our legislation would finally right that wrong by once again delisting the bears and stopping further frivolous litigation on this issue.”
It was noted in the news release that in 2018, “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that ‘The [grizzly bear] population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting.’” USFWS biologists have also found that grizzly bears exceed the carrying capacity for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, yet a Federal District Court Judge in Montana blocked the Department of the Interior’s rule to delist the grizzly bear. The Wyoming State Legislature adopted a resolution in February asking for delisting of the bears, and it was signed by the governor a few days later.
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
As its name implies, this bill (introduced March 12) would “allow Americans to donate to federal government projects,” according to a press release about it. A bipartisan bill, it is designed to allow “allow American citizens to give donations to the federal government intended for a specific purpose. The bill would also provide new oversight and reporting into how such donations are being used.”
As explained in the release, “some government departments can only accept ‘general’ donations from private citizens, without any conditions on how the funds are to be spent,” but this legislation “would update the law to make sure that all executive departments can accept donations that come with instructions on how it should be spent by the department.”
Going on to explain it further, Senator Enzi indicated that “Taxpayers already give up a chunk of their paychecks in the form of taxes to the government, but people don’t normally feel like they get much of a say in how it is used. This legislation would allow Americans to donate money to a specific government project or department they would like to support. Including conditions when donating money to a school or non-profit is common — this would just allow it to happen at the federal level.”
If enacted into law, it would “direct the Government Accountability Office to examine all gift funds, along with how each department manages such funds and how they are used in order to provide oversight of the donations. At the discretion of the department heads, unused funds would also be sent to the Department of the Treasury to reduce the deficit.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
S.1090 —A bill to require the Internal Revenue Service to provide Congress with sufficient notice prior to the closing of any Taxpayer Assistance Center
Introduced just before annual Tax Day, this legislation “would require the IRS to provide a 90-day notice to Congress about its intention to close Taxpayer Assistance Centers.” Also, it would “require the IRS to provide a description of the assistance it intends to provide taxpayers in any rural area that has a population of fewer than 50,000 people and would be affected by the proposed closure.”
The centers are a unique service that provide taxpayers with in-person support from IRS professionals. The Senator was inspired to create this bill when he learned that one of two of his home state’s centers had closed. He ensured it was reopened, and when speaking to Congress about the bill, said: “Closing Taxpayer Assistance Centers presents challenges to many folks – especially during the tax filing season. This legislation would prevent unannounced closures from happening in the future to ensure that taxpayers have access to resources they need.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
Introduced on April 11, this bill is meant to “prevent thousands of people from losing their health care coverage after a federal judge struck down the Department of Labor’s Association Health Plans rule,” according to a news release about the legislation. The rule that was struck down had been making it “easier for small businesses to band together to provide their employees with comprehensive and affordable health insurance that has the same consumer protections that apply to large employer health plans.”
Senator Enzi’s bill would “ensure the new pathway remains available for small businesses to offer Association Health Plans under the Department of Labor’s final rule.”
Speaking about it before Congress, he said: “As a former small business owner, I understand firsthand the difficulties that employers face when trying to provide health insurance for their employees.
Association Health Plans work for small businesses. They provide coverage to people who would not otherwise have it, and they provide comprehensive health benefits at an affordable price the same way larger employers do — the same way most folks get insurance. One family shoe store probably cannot get an insurance company to play ball, but 1,000 family shoe stores probably could.”
Currently, coverage to association members is under consumer protection requirements applicable to more than 150 million Americans receiving coverage from employers. Around “30 Association Health Plans have formed under the rule so far. According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 4 million people are expected to enroll in an Association Health Plan by 2023, including 400,000 who would otherwise be uninsured.”
With 30 Republican cosponsors, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
A bipartisan item introduced on May 23, this bill will “enhance education of biosimilar drug products in an effort to increase competition and lower the cost of biologic medicines,” if made law. According to a press release from Senator Enzi’s office, “Biologics are complex products that may be used to treat serious or chronic conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers. Biosimilars are highly similar to and have no clinically meaningful differences from brand biologic drugs, but are manufactured by different companies.
Biosimilars have great potential to reduce health care costs but have been slow to gain traction in the pharmaceutical market. Less than two percent of Americans use biologics, but they make up 40 percent of total spending on prescription drugs.”
The goal of this legislation is to “provide educational materials to patients and providers to help improve their confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these FDA-approved products. Improved confidence in biosimilars could lead to increased biosimilar use, which in turn could increase health care savings…[it] has three main components: requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a central website for educational resources on biosimilars; requiring the HHS secretary to establish a database to help medical professionals easily compare data associated with biologic and biosimilar products; and establishing incentives for medical providers to learn more about biosimilars.”
Speaking of it to Congress, Senator Enzi said, “We are not benefiting from cheaper prescription drug alternatives like biosimilars as much as we should. Biosimilars are one of the ways we can do something about health care costs without just shifting them elsewhere in the system or implementing administrative price controls. This legislation would help increase confidence in lower-cost biosimilar products, which could drive down drug costs for Americans.”
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Senator Enzi may have a bit of controversy surrounding his heavy reliance on PACs and SuperPACs in his previous campaign runs. It is also fair to say that some of the bills he has introduced could be seen as leaning into preferential treatment, such as seeking to delist grizzly bears (which means the next logical leap is to reopen hunting on them). However, this is far more of a “party line” stance than undue influence position.
After 20+ years working for the people of Wyoming and the people of the U.S., and with his firm and unshakeable desire to balance the budget and get America’s finances back on track, he doesn’t seem under any influence. Yes, Mr. Cheney was right about the many dollars submitted by PACs, but Senator Enzi also has support from a diverse array of other groups.
He is not acting on behalf of special interests, that is abundantly clear. He is acting on the needs of his constituency and on some of his conservative values. This is what he was elected to do, and now that his Senatorial career is at an end it will be interesting to watch what he does with his knowledge of finance and government in his retirement.