Representative Edward J. Markey, a leading contender to replace Senator John F. Kerry, has never been known as an aggressive fund-raiser. He did not need to be.
From 1987 to 2008, his perch atop a powerful congressional committee that oversaw the multibillion-dollar telecommunications and media industries during a period of explosive growth and intense competition helped him build what is now a $3.1 million war chest.
The communications and electronics industries have been Markey’s largest sources of campaign cash, handing him $2.4 million of the $12 million he raised from 1989 to 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog that has tracked donations during that period.
The list of Markey’s top 20 donors over those years is studded with multinational media conglomerates, including Time Warner, AT&T, News Corp., Comcast, Sprint, Viacom, Walt Disney, General Electric, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
The biggest contributor on the list is DLA Piper, the politically connected law and lobbying firm whose clients include Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defense contractor. Other major donors include finance, insurance, and energy firms.
Markey’s campaign account has helped him hold his House seat for 37 years, scaring off potential challengers. Now, it has made him the early leader among Democrats seeking to replace Kerry.
Despite the corporate donations Markey has collected, consumer advocates say the Malden Democrat has consistently voted against industry interests in his roles as either chairman or top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications.
The panel has been at the center of fierce fights between telephone, cable television, wireless, and broadcast companies as they battled for dominance in an exploding world of Internet commerce and digital consolidation.
“He would have the lowest for-sale ratio in the country,” said Mark Cooper, longtime research director at the Consumer Federation of America, an association of non-profits that seeks to check corporate media power. “They may give him money, but he certainly never demurs from opposing them on every key issue.”
Markey declined to be interviewed. His spokeswoman, Giselle Barry, released a statement saying the congressman is grateful for the support he has received from grass-roots donors “who appreciate his fearless work to protect consumers and fight for their interests.”
“While some special interests oppose his proconsumer positions, they always know that Ed Markey votes for what he believes is best for the people of his district and the Commonwealth,” Barry said.
Even if Markey is seen as hostile to corporate interests, the industry wants lawmakers like him to consider their viewpoints, said Marian Currinder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
“You’re not counting on Markey — if you’re a big industry group — to vote for you, but you want him to hear what you’ll have to say,” said Currinder.
“Even as ranking member, he can make your life difficult,” Currinder said.
Israel Klein, Markey’s former communications director, who served as his national finance director in 2004, said media conglomerates and other corporations that donate to Markey never expect to get “more than a fair hearing.”
“Ed has his views, and knows the issues that face Massachusetts and the economy,” said Klein, who is now a lobbyist representing several major energy companies, another area where Markey has been a key player. “They continue to support him because they like him.”
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has given Markey $51,500 since 1989, declined to comment.
Over the past decade, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which counts Markey as a member and includes the telecommunications subcommittee, has become one of the most desirable assignments, because its members help regulate burgeoning and fast-changing energy, health care, and communications companies.
Those firms, in turn, can provide campaign cash, making a committee seat a particular prize for veteran lawmakers or those deemed worthy by House leaders, Currinder said.
Markey has typically spent about $500,000 a year in recent years, maintaining a small stable of political consultants on his payroll and donating thousands of dollars to other Democrats in tough races.
He has, for example, given $1,000 to Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran from Illinois, and $1,000 to Patrick Murphy of Florida, who won a hotly contested race .
Those donations could now help Markey ramp up his fund-raising for his Senate bid.
“It’s definitely a way of trading chits,” Currinder said. “You help out members who need the help, but the expectation is that later on down the line, when you go to them asking a favor, they’ll be there for you.”
Markey’s most active fund-raising year was 2004, when he worked hard to lay the foundation for a Senate run, if Kerry won the presidency.
Unlike in most years, when he typically holds just a few fund-raisers in Washington and Boston and raises about $1 million, Markey traveled the country that year, hauling in cash in California, New York, and other Democratic hot spots.
He raised $2.8 million, and collected checks from Barbara Streisand, Bonnie Raitt, David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul, and Norman Lear, the liberal activist and television producer.