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Runyan funded by oil and tobacco interests in election win

As Jon Runyan prepares for his freshman term in the U.S. House, he has some "thank yous" to send to his new colleagues, as well as to donors from the oil and tobacco industries.

As Jon Runyan prepares for his freshman term in the U.S. House, he has some "thank yous" to send to his new colleagues, as well as to donors from the oil and tobacco industries.

House Republicans, and the corporations that support them, helped Runyan beat Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler in South Jersey's Third Congressional District, according to general-election reports filed last week.

Runyan lent himself $350,000 and then stitched together smaller amounts to pay for TV ads and mailers. The former Eagle accepted a $2,500 donation from political action committees of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., $5,000 from oil conglomerate Koch Industries' PAC, and $5,000 from the Exxon Mobil Corp. PAC.

Many of the House Republicans who helped Runyan, including Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio, took money from tobacco and oil interests and committees representing financial, insurance, and health industries.

"There are definitely some entities in the United States that favor members of one party. If you look at oil and tobacco companies, they have historically favored Republicans," said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "If you look at unions, they have historically favored Democrats."

The final totals show Runyan raised $1.2 million, compared with Adler's $3.1 million. Runyan paid himself back $100,000 of his $350,000 personal loan.

House Republicans gave Runyan a total of $90,000.

Adler received far more help from fellow partisans. Beyond House Democratic donations, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $700,000 on Philadelphia television for Adler in the race's final week.

Runyan also was helped by independent expenditures of Republican-leaning groups, including the American Future Fund, which strongly opposed the national health-care overhaul. The group sponsored television ads for him.

Runyan, though, got even more help from his future colleagues, who took control of the House.

"No doubt, he owes his election to being targeted by the Republican National Committee and the Republican congressional leadership," Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison said. "He will be a very reliable partisan vote."

Runyan, though, said he was his own man.

"We're not going to agree on everything," he said.

Still, most of his views on taxes, the environment, and business are in step with the new Republican House majority.

The former lineman already has expressed views in line with those of some of his donors. He supports offshore oil drilling, as does the National Ocean Industries Association PAC, which gave him $1,000 and represents a consortium of industries that profit from offshore oil drilling.

He opposes, as does Koch Industries, legislation that would cap emissions and encourage clean-energy use. And he has questioned, as Koch-funded foundations have, whether humans have caused global warming. Runyan was helped in his campaign by a brief bus tour sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by David Koch, one of the two billionaire brothers who run Koch Industries.

Environmentalists identify Koch Industries as one of the nation's biggest polluters, noting that federal authorities have cited it numerous times for spilling oil and toxic gases.

Runyan said he had taken the money because Koch Industries was one of the nation's biggest employers, and did not tailor his opinions on issues to the company's agenda. "I truthfully didn't sit down with anybody from that company until late in the campaign," he said in an interview Friday.

Rather, he said, he formulated his stands on environmental issues long before Koch Industries took an interest in him.

The company, in an e-mail from communication director Melissa Cohlmia, said, "Koch Industries Inc. political action committee supported Congressman-elect Jon Runyan because we believe he will be a champion for fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets, all of which are critical to the success and survival of our nation."

Koch Industries is the top oil-industry campaign contributor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which puts the conglomerate on its "heavy hitters" list of donors. By mid-November it had given Republicans $682,000 and Democrats $101,000 for the 2010 elections, according to the center.

The oil industry favored Republicans in this cycle, giving them $5.4 million and Democrats $2.3 million, according to an analysis by the center.

Altria Group, a tobacco company that owns Philip Morris USA, also gave handsomely to House Republicans and their ancillary committees, which invested in Runyan's candidacy.

Tobacco political action committees gave Democrats $423,000 and Republicans $938,000.

Runyan said he had accepted the R.J. Reynolds check even though he believed tobacco use is unhealthy.

"There's no place for the government to tell people what they can and can't do," he said. Runyan said he supported educating people about the harmful effects of tobacco.

He would not raise tobacco taxes, he said, arguing that the government should cut spending instead.

A spokesman from R.J. Reynolds did not respond to requests for comment.

Soon, Runyan will have to get back on the fund-raising trail.

"He is one of the members of Congress in New Jersey who has to raise a good deal of money," Harrison said.

His district, which runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County, straddles two of the nation's most expensive media markets, New York and Philadelphia. And the district is the most competitive in the state. It has swung from Republican to Democrat and now back to Republican.

Even now, during the break between the election and his swearing-in, Runyan is thinking about starting to raise money all over again in the endless cycle of a politician who has only two years between elections.

"We haven't had any" fund-raisers since the election, he said, "although there's been a lot of discussion."