A Shift in Corporate PAC Giving in 2007

Posted February 1, 2008 at 6:35pm

For Democrats keeping a close eye on corporate political money, their first year back in power looked a lot like those before the 1994 Republican revolution.

The new majority has effectively neutralized Republicans’ fundraising edge with big business by grabbing 48 percent of all corporate political action committee donations last year, according to an early review of year-end Federal Election Commission reports that represent 70 percent of the 2007 total.

That number represents the exact proportion of corporate money the party received during its last Congress in power in 1993-1994, figures from the Campaign Finance Institute show.

“It’s a significant shift,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the institute. “It tells you that the average corporate PAC manager is more interested in access than in being a partisan.”

In just the previous Congress, even with a Democratic electoral wave building, Republicans claimed two of every three dollars doled out by corporate PACs. But Democrats all but erased that advantage in their first year back in charge on Capitol Hill, pulling in $29.8 million from the accounts, $2 million shy of the GOP’s haul.

The FEC was still finishing its processing as of press time on Friday.

Democratic candidates’ success with big business comes as the party’s political committees have opened wide leads over their Republican counterparts.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a $30 million advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee in cash on hand, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has $17.3 million more in cash on hand than the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

One veteran Democratic lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said party leaders were likely to be pleased with their share of corporate political money. “They’re usually happy if they can get it to 50/50,” this lobbyist said. “I don’t think Democrats expect to get it to 65/35. I don’t think the mentality of the Democratic leaders is that they’re entitled to that much.”

From 1987, when Democrats regained control of the Senate, until the 1994 midterm elections that swept them from power in both chambers, Democrats managed to leverage their majority to contain corporations’ ideological allegiance with the GOP.

Over the course of those four cycles, CFI records show Republicans’ share of corporate PAC contributions never exceeded 55 percent.

But after reclaiming both chambers, Republicans ran away with corporate support, bringing in 72 percent of their PAC dollars during the next two years. Over the next decade, the GOP’s share of that pool of money settled, and held steady, at about 65 percent.

Democrats roared out of the fundraising gate last year, vacuuming up 55 percent of corporate PAC contributions from the 50 largest accounts in the first two months of the year, a Roll Call analysis found at the time.

In part, the party’s strong start resulted from an aggressive fundraising schedule designed to take advantage of Democrats’ newfound status. Even then, PAC managers said they expected Republicans to make up some ground.

Officials with companies controlling some of the largest accounts indicated that the partisan ratio of their giving is unlikely to change as long as Democrats are in power.

“A lot of the things we do and the things we make are influenced by public policy,” said Peter O’Toole, a spokesman for General Electric. “So we try to make sure we’re speaking to the right people and we have a seat at the table. Those with ultimate oversight over our business — whomever is chairing one committee or another — is of the utmost importance to us. The way power is balanced right now in Washington, those people are obviously Democrats.”

The company gave 53 percent of its PAC dollars to Democrats last year, up from 37.5 percent during the 109th Congress.

Other companies bumped their contributions to Democrats by similar margins. Defense contractor Raytheon directed 55 percent of its money to Democrats, up 13 points from the previous cycle; drug maker Pfizer gave them 48 percent (up 17 points); and defense contractor General Dynamics gave 58 percent (up 18 points).

Through November of last year, Anheuser-Busch had steered 64 percent of its dollars to the new majority, a 24 percentage-point spike from the previous two years.

“Our employees, shareholders and customers are comprised of Democrats and Republicans, and we take a bipartisan approach to candidate contributions. We look for opportunities to support candidates who understand the issues important to our company, our shareholders, employees and customers,” spokesman Steve Mastorakos said.

Union Pacific doubled its giving to Democrats — from 20 percent in the previous cycle to 40 percent through November. Company spokesman Bob Turner said the shift had more to do with a wholesale restructuring of the company’s lobbying operation than the change in power on the Hill. The railroad decided to take a ground-up approach to government relations, and since many of the communities where it operates are represented by Democratic lawmakers, they will now be receiving a greater share of their contributions.

For the most part, CFI’s Malbin said, those controlling the flow of corporate dollars are abiding by lessons first learned from Democrats in the 1980s and reinforced by Republicans in the 1990s. “The message was, ‘We’re the majority, so you’re going to want to talk with us,’” he said. “It seems to me, from the numbers, PAC managers haven’t forgotten.”

Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.