CORPORATE FOCUS: Campaign Contributions Reveal Corporate Influence

For all but the ideologically committed or deluded few who believe corporations and their executives make contributions out of a sense of civic obligation, there can be little doubt that the U.S. campaign finance system is fundamentally corrupt, and corrupting.

But it would be a mistake to make this observation and reach the obvious conclusion that the current system of private contributions must be replaced by a system of public financing, and then fail to dig further. Because the available campaign finance data provides a host of insights into the pattern of corporate investment in politics and politicians in the United States.

Superb new data collections from the invaluable Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) 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. 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 the communications/electronics sector, gives more than 60 percent of its contributions to Democrats.

2. 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 only reliably Democratic supporters are lawyers/lobbyists (reflecting trial lawyer contributions) and labor. Lawyers/lobbyists directed nearly 70 percent of their contributions to the Democrats. Labor sent more than 90 percent of its monies to the Dems.

4. The major shift to the Republicans followed the 1994 elections, in which the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. Corporate contributions generally flow to the majority party, both 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. 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 the 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 their 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. The broad sector totals may in some cases obscure differences within industry groupings. For example, in the energy sector, while oil and gas have always been staunchly Republican, now giving more than three-fourths of their contributions to the Party of Lincoln, electric utilities have tilted more Democratic. Although about two-thirds of utility money now goes to the Republicans, utilities favored the Democrats when they 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 their monies to the 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. 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 skyrocketed as the financial deregulation bill was wending its way through Congress.

8. 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's still plenty of time to go this year.

9. 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. George W. Bush is massively outdistancing Al Gore in corporate contributions. Bush leads in every corporate sector. In the most competitive sector, communications/electronics, Bush's contributions are 25 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.

This is no way to run a democracy. When both parties' financial lifeline are connected to corporate interests, the democratic credentials of the political system are called into question. The system formally remains one of one person, one vote, but is it the people or the corporations who rule?

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.

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