Now ensnarled in controversy, Democratic super lobbyist Tony Podesta cast a wide net of financial support to politicians over the years. With the 2018 midterm elections less than 12 months away, at least one beneficiary of those donations has made the decision to return Podesta's campaign cash.
Amid questions raised by Republican primary candidate Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., announced in an interview on Sunday he would give back the $2,000 Podesta contributed to his re-election campaign. "It’s a minimal amount, and I’m more than happy to send it back,” the senator said.
Podesta and his powerful lobbying firm, now set to close by the end of the year, are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The firm stands accused of purposefully concealing its lobbying work on behalf of the Brussels-based European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a think tank with connections to pro-Russia forces in the Ukrainian government. The indictment of Trump campaign operatives Paul Manafort and Rick Gates published last month made veiled references to Podesta's firm, alleging the Ukraine work completed by the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs was orchestrated by Manafort and Gates in an effort to minimize the extent of public disclosure. As we've documented, much evidence suggests the parties involved were aware their work was ultimately on behalf of Ukraine, but avoided filing proper disclosures.
Donnelly is one of six Democratic senators up for re-election in states President Trump won last November, all of whom are likely to face serious challenges to keep their seats over the course of the next year. According to an analysis by Peter Hasson of the Daily Caller, Podesta also boosted the bids of incumbent Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Jon Tester, D. Mon.
Podesta announced he was stepping down from the firm shortly after the indictment of Manafort and Gates became public. His high profile in Democratic circles makes the alleged scandal of great interest to Republicans, who see Podesta's involvement as a sign Democrats hands are as dirty as anyone's when it comes to alleged Russian collusion.
That Donnelly felt enough pressure to return Podesta's contributions could trigger calls from Republicans for the additional five candidates to do the same, driving questions in local news cycles to draw connections between the embattled lobbyist and Trump Country Democrats. As Donnelly noted, however, Podesta's donations appear to have been minimal, so the impact of those questions could be limited.