The Ten Companies Making The Biggest Political Donations

24/7 Wall St.

With the U.S. presidential election heating up, 24/7 Wall St. decided to examine public companies’ political contributions in the current election cycle. The donations include monies given to political parties, candidates, and political action committees. The figures are staggering and have prompted many to ask whether money can buy a seat in the House, Senate, or even the presidency itself.

The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, the Romney Victory Fund, and the Republican National Committee raised more than $76.8 million in May alone. This one month does not include what Romney and his supporters raised for the primaries, or the growing amount he will need as the presidential election shifts into high gear. While President Obama has raised more overall, his campaign and the Democratic party only raised $60 million for his re-election effort in May.

Political contributions, which used to go directly to candidates, now often flow to Super PACs, independent organizations that can raise money to either help or defeat a political candidate. Historically, traditional political action committees have been prohibited from accepting donations from unions and companies. However, following rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, Super PACs are now allowed to accept unlimited donations from unions and companies, provided the money does not go directly to the campaign.

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The rise of the Super PAC has opened the door to a new generation of fundraising, changing how money is used to elect candidates and increasing the amount candidates need to raise to be competitive as they seek office.

Already, there is evidence of the influence large corporations and their senior managements can have. At one point in January, Las Vegas Sands’ CEO, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, gave then GOP’s presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich $5 million. Gingrich could not have remained a candidate for the Republican nomination without the money. Adelson went so far in February as to say he might pass an additional $100 million to Gingrich and the PACs that supported him. Adelson, with his activist posture, won’t likely go away this political season as Gingrich did. His total contributions this election cycle already total nearly $12 million. Some of his contributions have been given through a tiny methadone clinic owned by him and his wife Miriam. It is perhaps not surprising then to find Las Vegas Sands, which is run by Adelson, at the top of the list of the 10 public companies with the largest political contributions.

The 10 companies on our list operate in different industries. While one might think financial firms, tethered to the federal government by the financial crisis bailout, and defense companies, which count on billions of dollars in government contracts, would dominate the list, they do not entirely. Microsoft is on the list, as is AT&T, cable company Comcast, and film studio Dreamworks. In addition to the sums each company donated and to which political party, we also added how much these companies have spent on lobbying, which is counted separately from political donations. As tempting as it is, we did not speculate on the reasons behind the companies’ contributions.

Based on data collected and published by the Center for Responsive Politics on its website, opensecrets.org, 24/7 Wall St. has identified the 10 publicly traded companies contributing the most to candidates, political parties, and PACs. The Center for Responsive Politics calculates total political contributions made by either companies’ PACs or employees within a given election cycle (beginning in January 1, 2011 for the 2012 cycle) that are over $200. 24/7 Wall St. also examined lobbying expenditure data, also published by the Center for Responsive Politics. Finally, we relied on the 2012 Washington Technology Top 100 for revenue earned by the top government contractors.

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These are the companies making the biggest political donations.

1. Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $11,738,600
> Donations to Democratic Party: 0%
> Donations to Republican Party: 100%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $30,000
> Industry: Resorts and Casinos

So far in this election cycle, political contributions from casino and resort operator Las Vegas Sands have exceeded donations from any publicly traded company, including those in the defense, financial, and telecom industries, which usually make up the nation’s largest corporate political contributors. The majority of company’s contributions, $10 million, came from Sands’ CEO Sheldon Adelson. In addition, Adelson and his wife Miriam made individual contributions totaling $15 million through the Adelson Drug Clinic, a methadone clinic managed by Miriam Adelson. Most of this money has gone to outsider groups, rather than directly to candidates or parties, with the Gingrich-backing Winning Our Future PAC receiving donations of $5 million and $2.5 million.

2. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $4,769,994
> Donations to Democratic Party: 29%
> Donations to Republican Party: 71%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $1,380,000
> Industry: Diversified Investments

Over the past decade many of the largest corporate donors have been financial firms. And no financial company has contributed as much money or as consistently as Goldman Sachs, which has given $39 million since 1989. Since 2000, Goldman has been one of the 10 largest political donors among publicly traded companies in every election cycle, a distinction unique to the company. Twice, in 2004 and 2008, the company contributed more to political campaigns than any other business in the U.S. In the 2008 election cycle, Goldman spent slightly more than $7 million, the most it has ever contributed.

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3. Comcast Corporation (CMCSA)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,774,151
> Donations to Democratic Party: 64%
> Donations to Republican Party: 36%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $4,600,000
> Industry: Cable TV

Three times in the past twelve years cable company Comcast has been one of the largest corporate political donors in the U.S. Since 2008, election cycle contributions by the company and its employees have totaled more than $9 million. In the present cycle, contributions from Comcast have come in almost equal measure from private individuals within the company and from the organization’s own PAC, called the Comcast Corporation Political Action Committee. Of particular note, Executive Vice President David Cohen was the largest direct donor at the company, contributing $194,650.             

4. AT&T, Inc. (T)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,504,219
> Donations to Democratic Party: 35%
> Donations to Republican Party: 65%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $7,050,000
> Industry: Telecom Services

Since SBC Communications bought AT&T Corp. in 2005, the newly formed AT&T, Inc. has been one of the largest political donors in the country, with more than $18 million in contributions since the acquisition. The telecom was the largest political contributor among all public companies in 2006 and in 2010. For 2012, the board of directors approved a maximum amount of $6.5 million in total contributions to political candidates, parties, PACs and other groups. AT&T also lobbies extensively, having spent more than $7 million on lobbying so far in 2012 — more than any publicly traded company.

5. Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc. (DWA)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,370,150
> Donations to Democratic Party: 99%
> Donations to Republican Party: 1%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): N/A
> Industry: Movie Production

Though Dreamworks Animation is a relatively small business, with just about 2,100 full-time employees and a $1.6 billion market capitalization, the company is an extremely large contributor to the Democratic Party and related organizations. Most of the movie production company’s contributions — $2,125,000, or 90% of donations — support outside spending groups, including PACs, instead of individual campaigns. And almost all of this support is from CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. He became one of the largest donors in the country after giving $2 million to Priorities USA Action, an organization committed to the reelection of President Obama.

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6. Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,253,565
> Donations to Democratic Party: 68%
> Donations to Republican Party: 32%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $1,790,000
> Industry: Software

Microsoft has a long history of political contributions, donating a total of $24 million since 1988. Only once over the last seven election cycles has the software company not been one of the 10 largest political donors among public companies. Though the company’s chairman, Bill Gates, is one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, he has exclusively contributed smaller, incremental donations directly to party groups and candidates, rather than providing PACs with large contributions. In addition to Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer has made more than 20 political contributions ranging from $1,000 to $15,000. Donations from these and other employees accounted for 67% of the money raised in the present election cycle.

7. Huntsman Corporation (HUN)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,250,389
> Donations to Democratic Party: 0%
> Donations to Republican Party: 100%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $100,000
> Industry: Specialty Chemicals

Chemical company Huntsman Corporation donated $2.25 million to political campaigns in the present election cycle. Almost all of this came from the company’s founder and chairman, Jon Huntsman Sr., whose donations made him one of the nation’s largest individual contributors. In the span of four months, from October 2011 through January 2012, Huntsman donated $2.2 million over 10 payments to Our Destiny PAC, a group that supported the presidential candidacy of his son, Jon Huntsman Jr. Roughly 99% of the donations was to Our Destiny, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while direct contributions to candidates and parties accounted for the remaining 1%, or just $28,350.

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8. Honeywell International Inc. (HON)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,222,605
> Donations to Democratic Party: 37%
> Donations to Republican Party: 63%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $1,750,000
> Industry: Aerospace/Defense Products and Services

In this election cycle, Honeywell has donated nearly $2 million in contributions directly to political candidates and parties, most of which was given through the Honeywell International Political Action Committee (HIPAC), which allows employees to donate to candidates vetted by the company. In the current election cycle, no contribution to HIPAC has exceeded $5,000 and just seven contributions were for $2,500 or more. According to the diversified manufacturing company’s corporate governance guidelines, PAC donations are intended to be the primary way in which the company is politically active. The company, however, is also very active in lobbying, having spent upwards of $6 million annually from 2009 to 2011. Honeywell received $725 million worth of government-contracts in fiscal year 2011.

9. Bank of America Corporation (BAC)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $2,125,513
> Donations to Democratic Party: 26%
> Donations to Republican Party: 74%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $870,000
> Industry: International, Money Center Bank

Since 2004, Bank of America’s political contributions have exceeded $2 million in each election cycle. Following the bank’s acquisition of financial institutions, including FleetBoston, MBNA, Countrywide Financial, and Merrill Lynch, the number of full-time employees rose to some 279,000. Donations from company’s employees now make up over two-thirds of the bank’s total contributions. In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Department of the Treasury gave Bank of America $45 billion in TARP bailout funds. In March 2012, the company agreed to pay $11.8 billion in fines for abuses in home foreclosure proceedings.

10. Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT)

> Total contributions (2012-ongoing): $1,927,900
> Donations to Democratic Party: 38%
> Donations to Republican Party: 62%
> Spending on lobbying (2012-ongoing): $3,979,250
> Industry: Aerospace/Defense Products and Services

Lockheed Martin has been one of the largest political contributors of the past 20 years, and it has donated more than $1 million in each election cycle dating back to 1996. In this current cycle, 83% of funds contributed by the company have come from the Lockheed Martin Employees Political Action Committee (LMEPAC), which has contributed $570,000 to Democratic Party candidates and $881,000 to Republican Party candidates. In fiscal 2011, the defense company received contracts worth over $17 billion, more than any other company in the U.S. This was more than the government contracts received by the next two companies, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, combined.

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