Reading Time: 4 minutes

John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, an heir to the great Rockefeller fortune, continues to oversee a vast — and contentious — portfolio as chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The panel handles a broad array of topics, including communications, highways, aviation, rail, shipping, transportation security, tourism, the Coast Guard, and climate change. First elected to the Senate in 1984, the veteran senator from West Virginia is entering his second Congress at the helm of the committee. He previously spent years as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A graduate of Harvard and a native of New York, Rockefeller, 73, lived in Japan and the Philippines before moving to West Virginia. He was elected to the state’s House of Delegates in 1966, and then served a term as West Virginia secretary of state, before winning two terms as governor, from 1977 to 1985. In 1984 he spent millions of his own money for a victorious Senate campaign that he won with 52 percent of the vote. Since then he has won re-election four times, with at least 63 percent of the vote. Even with his enormous wealth (estimated in 2006 at around $200 million) Rockefeller has not needed to self-finance any of his re-election campaigns.

Over the past two years under Rockefeller’s leadership, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has put forth notable bills guiding the government’s response to future oil spills, providing extra protection for e-commerce and strengthening cyber security efforts. In 2007, Rockefeller helped produce a difficult compromise between Congress and the Bush White House providing immunity for companies sued as a result of their assistance in aiding the administration’s anti-terrorism surveillance program.

Throughout his career, Rockefeller has also put an emphasis on health care. He supported President Bill Clinton’s failed push for health care reform, and in 2007 was a leader in the Senate as the Democrats pushed to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. More recently, his position as chairman of the Senate Finance panel’s Health Care Subcommittee gave him a major role in shaping President Obama’s controversial health care law.

In addition, Rockefeller has been an energetic supporter of consumer and worker rights, including co-sponsorship of a 2007 bill to require cell phone companies to make extra charges clearer in contracts — a measure that never made it out of committee. Similarly, he was the lead sponsor on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, a bill that was put forth in response to the Toyota safety recalls from earlier that year. Although the bill was endorsed by his committee, Rockefeller was unable to get it brought to a vote in the full Senate.

Many of Rockefeller’s former staffers have gone on to lobby for companies with business in front of the committee, including financial groups like the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, science-related companies like Dow Chemical, and automobile manufacturers such as Toyota and General Motors.

Sen. Rockefeller’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Top PAC Contributors

  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union representing 1.4 million workers — at least $17,500
  • United Parcel Service Inc., one of the nation’s largest shipping companies — at least $17,000
  • Walt Disney Co., the entertainment giant — at least $15,500
  • Lockheed Martin Corp., a major aerospace company and defense contractor — at least $15,000
  • National Education Association, a major labor union representing teachers — at least $15,000
  • United Transportation Union, a union representing “125,000 active and retired railroad, bus and mass transit workers” — at least $15,000
  • PACs gave at least $2.18 million to Rockefeller’s campaign account or his Mountaineer leadership PAC

Revolving Door

  • R. Lane Bailey, Rockefeller’s chief of staff for over a decade, is now with Golin Harris, lobbying on behalf of such clients as the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association and Dow Chemical
  • Jim Gottlieb, former counsel and chief of staff to Rockefeller, now lobbies for Capitol Counsel LLC on behalf of clients that include Atlas Energy and Harrah’s Entertainment
  • Jonathan Heafitz, a former legislative aide for Rockefeller, is director of federal and regulatory affairs with the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association
  • Michael D. Nilsson, former telecommunications and technology adviser and counsel to Rockefeller, is a partner at Wiltshire & Grannis, lobbying on behalf of DirectTV
  • Patrick Robertson, who served for nine years on Rockefeller’s staff, including five as deputy to the chief of staff and managed Rockefeller’s 2008 re-election campaign, is a partner at C2 Group, representing clients such as 7-Eleven, WellMed Medical Management, and Vista Research
  • Ira Shapiro, Rockefeller’s former chief of staff, lobbies at GreenbergTraurig for companies like Toyota and General Motors. In his official bio, Rockfeller cites recruitment of a Toyota plant to West Virginia as one of his prime achievements
  • Tonya Speed, a former Rockefeller aide, runs Washington Premier Consulting, where she lobbies for groups like the Mid-Tier Alliance and Greenlight Environmental


  • Between 2008 and 2010, Rockefeller obtained more than $30 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, making him one of the Senate’s more modest earmarkers
  • In 2010, he obtained just $1 million in earmarks. His 2009 earmarks included $9 million for the National Media Exploitation Center, which coordinates multi-agency analysis of information gleaned from paper documents, electronic media, videotapes, audiotapes, and electronic equipment seized by the U.S. military and intelligence community

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.