Place this in the “politics makes for strange bedfellows” file: today’s Baltimore Sun reports on an interesting source of fundraising for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA’s budget, who is running for reelection this year. The article notes that the Huntsville metro area is fourth in donating to her campaign, behind Baltimore, Washington DC, and New York (although a look at the data itself shows that Huntsville is a distant fourth, particularly when compared to the Baltimore and Washington metro areas, which dominate.)
That people and organizations in the Huntsville area would contribute to Mikulski’s campaign is itself not surprising, given her powerful position within the appropriations committee to alter the budget of an agency, NASA, which plays a major role in that city’s economy. It’s also not surprising that “Alabama business and industry leaders” held a fundraising breakfast for Mikulski last fall in Huntsville less than a week after the release of the final report of the Augustine Committee. What is a little more surprising is the person who reportedly played a role in that event’s success: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of Mikulski’s subcommittee. While Shelby’s spokesman said that the senator didn’t help organize the fundraiser, he “worked behind the scenes to make sure the event was a success”, according to the Sun, which calls this “an extremely unusual example of fundraising cooperation across party lines”.
Mikulski and Shelby have a long record of working together, the article notes, and her trip to Huntsville last October was not the first fundraiser that she has held there during her time in the Senate. It does come, though, as Congress debates the shift in NASA’s direction the White House has proposed in its FY2011 budget, one that has not gone over well in Huntsville as it calls for canceling Constellation, including the Ares 1 and 5 rockets. She has been quiet about the plan so far other than a letter to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) last month saying that any new NASA plan should be “mission driven” and expressing concerns about the NASA workforce. That silence will be broken for certain later this month when her subcommittee holds a hearing about the NASA budget proposal.