The Money Trail

Corporate Investments in U.S. Elections Since 1990

by Robert Weissman

Multinational Monitor, October 2000


Whateaver else happens in the 2000 elections, one thing seems certain: campaign finance records will be shattered. Unregulated soft money is pouring into the two major parties, congressional candidates are raising record sums, George W. Bush proved his mettle to Republican kingmakers with his fundraising ability and "independent expenditures" are filling the airwaves with political advertisements.

Often lost amidst the recognition of the surge of private funding of electoral campaigns is a more careful analysis of who is giving what to whom.

New data collections from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP, data at now make such analysis easier than ever. The data detail the nature of major industrial sector contribution patterns over the last decade, compiling contributions from individuals affiliated with industries, political action committee (PAC) contributions and soft money donations (made to the political parties). Here is some of what their data shows:

1. The Republican Advantage. Every single major industrial sector except for communications/electronics now favors the Republican Party. The CRP industry groupings are: agribusiness; communications/electronics; construction; defense; energy/natural resources; finance/insurance/real estate; health; transportation; and a catch-all miscellaneous business category, including liquor, casinos, chemicals, food, advertising, steel production and textiles.

The communications/electronics contributions lean slightly toward the Democrats, powered by contributions from Hollywood. The TV/movie/music sector, constituting about a third of overall donations from dhe communications/electronics sector, gives more than 60 percent of its contributions to Democrats.

2. Both parties get rich. Despite the overall tilt to the Republicans, every major industrial sector contributes large sums to the Democrats as well. Agribusiness and energy/natural resources, two of the most pro-Republican industries, gave the Democrats $69 million and $64 million, respectively, in the election cycles from 1990 to 2000.

3. The Democratic Allies. The only reliably Democratic supporters are lawyers/lobbyists (reflecting trial lawyer contributions), labor and Hollywood. Lawyers/lobbyists directed nearly 70 percent of their contributions to the Democrats ($247 million out of $358 million contributed from 1990 to 2000). Labor sent more than 90 percent of its monies to the Dems ($272 million out of $292 million.)

4. Money follows power. The major shift to the Republicans followed dhe 1994 elections, in which the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. Corporate contributions generally flow to the majority party, bodh because it has more incumbents and the companies seek to win influence with those in office, and because the majority party controls the legislative agenda.

5. Loyalists and Opportunists. Of the major industrial sectors, agribusiness, construction, energy/natural resources and transportation, plus the miscellaneous business category, appear firmly entrenched in the Republican camp. They favored dhe Republicans even when they were the minority in Congress, and now favor them by large margins. The health industries and finance/insurance/real estate both give about 60 percent of their contributions to the Republicans, while defense gives an even higher share to the GOP, but each of these sectors split dheir contributions relatively evenly when the Democrats controlled Congress. Communications/electronics companies now divide their contributions evenly, and favored the Democrats in the elections through 1994.

6. Sectoral Differences. The broad sector totals may in some cases obscure differences widhin industry groupings. For example, in the energy sector, while oil and gas have always been staunchly Republican, now giving more dhan three-fourths of dheir contributions to dhe Party of Lincoln, electric utilities have tilted more Democratic. Although about two-dhirds of utility money now goes to the Republicans, utilities favored dhe Democrats when dhey controlled Congress. In the finance sector, real estate firms and securities/investment banks have shaded more Democratic than insurance companies and commercial banks. The former now give about 43 percent of dheir monies to dhe Democrats, while insurance companies and commercial banks give only one-third to the minority party. In general, however, industrial sectors appear to act in concert.

7. Paying for legislation. Specific sector contributions spike at certain periods, correlating with Congressional consideration of major legislation of interest to particular industries. Agribusiness contributions rise prior to adoption of the periodic Farm Bill. Communications/electronic contributions nearly doubled from 1994 to 1996, prior to adoption of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Contributions from the finance sector leaped as the financial deregulation bill was wending its way through Congress.

8. Skyrocketing contributions. Over the past decade, the overarching trend in corporate campaign contributions has been rapidly upward. Corporate contributions in the 2000 elections are already about 50 percent higher than in the 1992 presidential election year-and there is still plenty of time to go this year.

9. Labor Outmatched. Labor is no counterbalance for the Democrats. Although unions direct more than 90 percent of their contributions to the Democrats, corporate contributors outspend them by more than 11 times.

10. Bush beats Gore. George W. Bush is massively outdistancing Al Gore in corporate contributions. Bush leads Gore in every corporate sector. In the most competitive sector, communications/electronics, Bush's contributions are 33 percent higher than Gore's. In the agribusiness, energy/natural resources and transportation sectors, Bush is pulling in nearly 10 times more money than Gore. Neither Ralph Nader nor Pat Buchanan register significant corporate contributions from any corporate sector.

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