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Political action committees for companies and trade groups involved with the ethanol industry contributed $1 million to Congressional candidates in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. The money went to nearly 200 candidates, including 21 in the big corn-growing state of Illinois, 12 each in Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri, and 10 in Ohio.

Ethanol subsidies have returned to the Congressional agenda as lawmakers prepare to consider extending tax subsidies and tariffs for the alternative fuel. The issue has divided elected officials of both parties, with farm state lawmakers generally backing a five-year extension of the 45 cent per gallon subsidy for the fuel made from corn, sugar, and other plant material.

A bipartisan group of 17 senators, including Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, recently signed a letter opposing the incentives as “fiscally responsible and environmentally unwise.” Last week, another bipartisan group of 15 senators wrote their own letter urging that the Senate renew the ethanol incentives before the end of the year.

In light of these letters — and the Center’s recent PaperTrail report — we examined which lawmakers have received the most money in the past two election cycles from ethanol interests. We were able to identify a total of 22 ethanol-related groups, including PACs for big ethanol makers such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and POET LLC, and for industry groups such as Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association.

All but one of the signatories to the pro-ethanol letter — retiring Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback — received at least one contribution from these PACs. In total, the ethanol sector’s political committees distributed more than $120,000 combined to the 14 other supporters, many of whom represent states with significant ethanol-related industries.

Among the top recipients overall:

  • Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) with at least $38,400
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) with at least $37,900
  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) with at least $32,066
  • Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) with at least $30,350
  • Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) with at least $25,900
  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) with at least $24,750
  • Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) with at least $23,500
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) with at least $23,125
  • Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) with at least $22,000
  • Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) with at least $21,900

In light of last month’s election results, though, the ethanol industry will have to make some new friends. Four of the top 10 recipients listed above — Hare, Pomeroy, Herseth, Sandlin, and Lincoln — were defeated in their bids for re-election.

Even after contributing at least $999,941 to campaigns over the past four years, the ethanol PACs invested far less than the oil and gas sector: Exxon Mobil’s corporate PAC alone distributed more than $1.4 million to congressional candidates over the same period.

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