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story.lead_photo.caption Bruce Westerman - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Congressman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., received more campaign donations from transportation associations and related businesses in the first half of this year than for the same time period over the past three years combined.

The rise in contributions from the transportation sector comes during Westerman's first stint as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Westerman, who represents Arkansas' 4th Congressional District, collected about $34,000 from the shippers and transit employee groups so far this year. In 2016, an election year, he took in about $5,000 from transportation-related organizations as compared with about $11,500 in 2015, and about $1,500 when he first ran for office in 2014. The information was obtained from the Federal Election Commission's website.

Officials in Westerman's office declined to comment.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association donated $1,500 to Westerman in February. A spokesman for the group said the donation was made because of the congressman's support for small business.

"Lawmakers seldom miss an opportunity to tout how much they support small businesses," Norita Taylor, the spokesman, wrote in an email. "When push comes to shove, some do, some don't. We try to recognize those who really do. Rep. Westerman has demonstrated a genuine interest in helping our members overcome certain regulatory burdens."

Donations from transportation organizations represent about 9.8 percent of $344,943 in contributions to Westerman's 2018 campaign.

The sector's donations to the Arkansas congressional delegation overall swelled in the second quarter. In the first three months of the year, about $30,500 went to these candidates' campaign funds, and in the second quarter, the amount was about $42,000, for about $72,500 total so far this year.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., also a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, received about $12,500 from transportation organizations in the second quarter of this year, up from $2,000 in the first quarter.

Transportation groups' donations to U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., were $2,500 in the first quarter and $3,000 in the second. The amounts to U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., were about the same in both quarters: $7,500 in the first and $8,000 in the second.

The state's U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, both Republicans, received donations from the transportation sector only in the second quarter. Cotton received $500, and Boozman received $2,500.

The transportation organizations' $34,000 in donations to Westerman so far this year is more than triple the total he received in the first halves of the past three years combined. For the first half of 2016, he received $2,000. In the first half of 2015, he received about $8,500, compared with no trucking-related donations when he first ran for the office in 2014.

In January, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., announced Westerman's assignment to the committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Westerman's engineering experience makes him an ideal choice for the committee.

The committee is considering provisions that could fundamentally change how companies ship and how consumers travel.

One of the most watched bills before the transportation committee is the 21st Century Aviation, Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act. It includes an amendment filed earlier this year that would prevent states from regulating truckers' workdays.

The Aviation, Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act also would deregulate air traffic control. Advocates want to privatize air traffic control rather than have it overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Westerman is a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, introduced earlier this year by Shuster. Westerman's campaign has received money from some of the same interest groups that are registered to lobby for and against the bill.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association PAC, a lobby that represents a wide range of aviators, has given about $2,000 to Westerman. It includes registered lobbyists who oppose the Aviation, Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act, according to documents from the U.S. House Office of the Clerk. Meanwhile, the Airline Pilots Association lobby is registered to support the bill and gave Westerman $1,000.

Another scrutinized provision of the Aviation, Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act hangs heavily over rural airports. It pertains to essential air services funding, which provides grants to air carriers that travel from smaller, rural airports to international hubs, like Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The president has sought to eliminate the funding, but House and Senate funding bills have so far resisted cutting it.

"And that's good for Arkansas," Virginia-based aviation strategist William Swelbar said. "Just given the fragile nature of its air service, those subsidies are very, very important."

Candidates must report their financial contributions and expenditures every three months to the Federal Election Commission, which then publishes them, making them available for the general public.

The fact that the lobby information pertaining to Westerman and other lawmakers is publicly available, "is a strong endorsement for campaign laws that ensure transparency and limit the amount that special interests can give to candidates," said Chisun Lee, a lawyer at New York University's Brennan Center for Money in Politics.

NW News on 08/14/2017

Print Headline: Westerman's seat on panel aiding coffers

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