The Exchange

10 business honchos about to flood Congress with money

The Exchange

The Supreme Court’s latest ruling on political contributions is likely to gives rich donors even more sway over national elections, intensifying the troubling influence of money in politics.

Overlooked amid the populist howling, however, is the impact the so-called McCutcheon decision is likely to have on business interests and the lobbyists who do their bidding in Washington, D.C. The ruling abolished limits on the total amount of money individuals can donate to candidates and political organizations, which gives wealthy donors — frequently business owners or executives — the freedom to donate to as many friendly candidates and causes as they like.

“Corporations will be able to give far in excess of what they give now, through their executive employees,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. “We’ll see this across all industries.”

Big political donors such as Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and George Soros have drawn attention mostly because of ideological campaigns to unseat an entire political party or push a particular social agenda. Adelson and the Koch Brothers fund Republicans and advocate limited government, among other things. Soros, a top Democratic donor, lobbies for immigration reform and other social-justice causes. Up till now, most of their donations have been in the form of “soft money” targeted at party committees and so-called super PACs, which can spend large sums advocating on behalf of issues or parties.

The McCutcheon decision, by contrast, will open up new pathways for businesses to pursue narrower issues that might be of interest only to them, through “hard money” donations directly to politicians who write the laws. “That’s much more valuable for donors to use to gain access and influence through donations,” says Krumholz.

Ideological donors can have business interests too, of course: Adelson, for instance, wants Congress to ban online gambling, which competes with his casinos. Koch Industries, which is privately owned by the Koch family, is a conglomerate with major energy holdings subject to federal and state environmental regulations. It’s not clear yet whether the new rules will benefit certain industries over others or prompt a do-little Congress to be more aggressive about passing laws favorable to generous donors. But it’s nearly certain more money will flow to politicians, giving lobbyists more leverage to ask for favors in return.

To figure out who that money might come from, and what donors might want in return, we used fundraising data compiled by two nonprofits — the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation  — to identify prominent businesspeople who have been big political donors in recent years. Here’s a sampling of politically active business figures who seem likely to give even more to favored candidates now that the Supreme Court has allowed them to, listed in order by the amount of their recent donations: 

John W. Childs, founder and chairman, J.W. Childs Associates, a Boston private-equity firm (no photo available)

Current donations: At least $520,000

Donates to: Republicans

Business interests: Financial regulation

 

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(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Scott Bommer, founder and CEO, SAB Capital Management, a New York hedge fund

Current donations: At least $375,000, including donations by his wife, Donya

Donates to: Republicans plus Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

Business interests: Financial regulation

 

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(David Markland via Flickr)

Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO, Dreamworks Animation in Los Angeles

Current donations: At least $297,000, including donations from his wife, Marilyn

Donates to: Democrats

Business interests: Telecommunications policy, intellectual property protection, exports

 

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(Citadel)

Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, a Chicago investing firm

Current donations: At least $250,000, including donations from his wife, Anne

Donates to: Republicans

Business interests: Financial regulation

 

(Library Foundation of Los Angeles)

Nelson Rising CEO, Rising Realty Partners, a Los Angeles property-investing firm

Current donations: At least $210,000, including donations from his wife, Sharon

Gives to: Democrats

Business interests: Zoning, land-use issues

 

 

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. , co-owner and retired chairman, Bechtel Corp. in San Francisco

Current donations: At least $209,000, including donations by his wife, Elizabeth

Donates to: Republicans

Business interests: Bechtel, the company, lobbies Congress on issues relating to nuclear power plants and big, federally funded construction projects.

 

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(The Huntington/Paul Marotta via Flickr)

George Krupp , CEO, Berkshire Property Advisors, a Boston real-estate investing firm

Current donations: At least $188,000, including donations from his wife, Lizbeth

Donates to: Democrats

Business interests: Financial regulation

 

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(AP Photo/Ariel Mutual Funds, Diane Bondareff)

Charles Schwab, chairman of discount brokerage Charles Schwab Corporation in San Francisco

Current donations: At least $187,000

Donates to: Mostly Republicans

Business interests: Financial regulation

 

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(University of Texas at El Paso)

Paul Foster, chairman, Western Refining, El Paso, Texas

Current donations: At least $160,00

Donates to: Mostly Republicans

Business interests: Energy and environmental regulation

 

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Paul Isaac, founder of Arbiter Partners, a New York hedge fund

Current donations: At least $150,000

Donates to: Mostly Republicans

Business interests: Financial regulation

 Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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