YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Norfolk Southern’s impact on politics is profound. It’s no secret that heavy-duty campaign and PAC contributions total into the multi-million dollar range for the railroad.
Norfolk Southern’s corporate political contribution and lobbying expense for 2021 totaled approximately $4.3 million, according to the company’s disclosure documents.
Some local politicians who have spoken out against Norfolk after the train derailment took money from the company for their campaigns. WKBN received questions from viewers and dug into the financial records. For instance, on Jan. 4, 2023, one month before the East Palestine train derailment, the Mike DeWine and Jon Husted Transition Fund received $10,000 from Norfolk, according to campaign finance records from the Ohio Secretary of State. The DeWine Husted for Ohio campaign also received $5,000 from Norfolk in 2022 as well as $1,000 in 2020 and $5,000 in 2019.
Rep. Mike Rulli received $500 from the railroad for his campaign in March 2022. Al Cutrona received $500 in June 2022.
But they are not alone. Records show Congressman Bill Johnson, former Congressman Tim Ryan, Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf received money from Norfolk.
However, since the train derailment, DeWine has donated the amount he’s received in contributions to help those affected in East Palestine, according to his press secretary Dan Tierney.
We’re told DeWine donated $11,000 to East Palestine Schools, the equivalent of what he received from Norfolk Southern during his last campaign.
DeWine’s office also donated another $10,000 to East Palestine Schools, which is the amount his inaugural committee also received from Norfolk Southern. In addition to this, his inaugural committee donated another $15,000 to help East Palestine, unrelated to any contributions from Norfolk Southern.
Senator Rulli also made a donation after the derailment. Rulli received $500 from Norfolk Southern, so he doubled it and sent $1,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank to help with efforts in East Palestine.
Rulli said if he does receive contributions from Norfolk Southern in the future, he will donate that as well.
First News also reached out to State Rep. Al Cutrona for comment but has not heard back.
Norfolk is forthcoming about its campaign activity, explaining on its website that it’s in the best interest of the company to “participate in the political process” and that part of that includes political contributions, and it’s all perfectly on the up and up.
Youngstown State University Political Science Chair William Binning said it is perfectly legal for politicians to take the money, and they are not obligated to do what the corporation wants.
“The receiver of the money didn’t promise anything. They are just given access,” Binning said. “It’s all legal. What they are buying is access.”
So, a corporation would expect to be able to talk to a politician or a staff member, but that is no guarantee that any action would be taken, Binning explained.
Politicians taking money from corporations is common, but according to a report from the American Bar Association, it raises ethical, legal and business issues. Corporations have historically donated to PACs, but it’s only been since 2010 that corporate money can go directly to a politician with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“Corporations are now people, and money is speech,” Binning explained. “The whole system is troublesome, but the court decision makes it impossible to ban all corporate or interest group contributions.”