Corporate spending and contribution fears fizzle fast

December 3, 2010   •  By Sean Parnell
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So-called campaign finance reform advocates were apoplectic in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, ominously predicting that corporations would empty their treasuries in an effort to “buy” the 2010 elections. I discussed (okay, mocked) these fears back on Sept. 7 in a blog entry titled “Waiting for ExxonMobil’s one percent.” where I wrote:

… “reformers” have offered as their scare scenario the idea that ExxonMobil might spend one percent of their annual profits on political speech (ExxonMobil seems to feature prominently in “reform” scare scenarios, presumably because they are the most profitable firm in the country and therefore the dollar figure is the largest possible “reasonable” amount as well as that oil companies are traditionally the top bogeyman for the campaign finance “reform” community)…

To date, ExxonMobil’s one percent (or anyone else’s for that matter) has yet to materialize…

Well, the election is long past, and we can now start to look at just how much corporate money was spent, and what type of corporations were giving.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics provides some interesting information, which seems to show that the self-styled reformers’ hysterics were wholly unwarranted. Yesterday, on CRP’s OpenSecrets Blog, Michael Beckel offered the following:

Conservative Juggernaut American Crossroads Finished Election Season With Fund-Raising Flourish

A flood of last-minute donations — many directly from corporations — helped American Crossroads, the biggest spending super PAC this year, stay on the political offense through Election Day.

During the final days before the 2010 midterm elections, American Crossroads, a conservative organization heavily supported by former George W. Bush aide Karl Rove, raised a staggering $3.8 million…

American Crossroads pulled in $670,000 directly from corporations during the final days of the campaign…

Beckel helpfully provides a list of the companies that contributed most of that $670,000. Almost none of them are companies that more than a small number of Americans are familiar with: Alliance Management Holdings, Falcon Trust, Hunter Engineering, Los Gatos Tomato Products and a handful of others. One, Weaver Popcorn, I had never heard of, but popcorn consumers may have. All appear to be privately held companies, not corporations with shares traded on exchanges.

The story is the pretty much the same for the funds American Crossroads raised throughout the election cycle —corporate funding comes almost exclusively from relatively small, privately held companies that almost nobody has ever heard of, hardly the corporate Goliaths that “reformers” have spent the last ten plus months shrieking about like ExxonMobil, BP, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, pharmaceutical companies and health insurers, tobacco companies, and the other corporate bogeymen popular amongst the “reform” hysterics. Here is a list of American Crossroads donors.

And it isn’t clear that all of what Beckell and CRP identify as corporate funding actually comes from corporations. The blog post includes a chart that states that American Crossroads raised, in aggregate, $9,111,000 from corporations. But this figure appears to include gifts totaling $3 million from Alliance Resource GP LLC and Southwest Louisiana Land LLC, and LLC stands for Limited Liability Company, and they are not incorporated entities.

In other words, the entity that ranked third in groups making independent expenditures for the 2010 election cycle appears to have raised at most a grand total of $6 million from corporations, and almost all of that from corporations that are privately held.

It seems reasonable to believe that a good portion of the nearly $33 million that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent in the 2010 elections came from corporations, much of it from companies that most people might have actually heard of. But corporate spending in 2010 appears to have been a pittance compared to the $4 billion or more that was spent by all parties, and the avalanche of money from the Fortune 500 that “reformers” predicted would overwhelm democracy appears to have been a figment of their overactive imagination.


Sean Parnell