The Washington Post has an excellent article that details the financial connections between Toyota and members of Congress who sit on committees that oversee the auto industry. Many of these individuals will also preside over upcoming hearings investigating the company's recall of over 8 million cars worldwide, including the United States, due to sudden acceleration.
According to the Washington Post:
* During the last 10 years, over 40% of the 125 members of three committees investigating Toyota received $135,673 from the Toyota dealers' PAC, dealership owners and employees, and staff at Toyota's U.S. operation.
* During the last 10 years, members of Congress received an additional $1 million for their campaigns through donations made to state parties and PACs.
* Toyota Motor North America also made significant donations to charities and other nonprofit groups with ties to members of Congress, including financing events honoring or entertaining members of Congress.
* Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, who chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, will preside over a hearing concerning Toyota on March 3. In 2008, Toyota Motor North America spent $45,000 in "lobbying funds" to hold an awards ceremony, at which the auto maker honored Rockefeller. The day after the gala, Rockefeller's press release described Shigeru Hayakawa, President of Toyota Motors North America, as someone the Senator was "proud to call a friend."
* Rep. Jane Harman (D), represents California -- the state with the largest Toyota operations. Harman represents a district covering Torrance, where Toyota is based. In 2008, Harman and her husband owned a financial stake in Toyota between $116,002 and $315,000.
* Finally, Toyota has hired bipartisan and Democratic lobbying groups to represent it on the Hill.
None of the activities described above seems illegal. Nonetheless, they raise questions regarding the extent of "industry capture" and the upcoming hearings. None of the individuals receiving money from or who hold financial stakes in Toyota have recused himself or herself from the upcoming hearings.