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The most liberal and conservative CEOs

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

CEOs are people, too. Or at least they have a range of political views similar to those of ordinary folks.

Corporate money has been flooding into politics since a pair of recent Surpeme Court decisions allowed corporations and wealthy people to make unlimited campaign contributions to groups known as super PACs, which can spend as much money as they want supporting a given candidate or cause. That has raised concerns about country-club conservatives, as CEOs are often caricatured, dominating politics.

But many CEOs defy this conservative stereotype, giving to liberal candidates and causes or donating across the political spectrum for pragmatic business reasons rather than personal ideological ones. To get a picture of how conservative or liberal CEOs really are, Yahoo Finance partnered with Crowdpac, a nonpartisan web site that maps politicians across an ideological spectrum based on how they vote, the political behavior of groups they’re affiliated with and other factors. (A full explanation of the methodology follows at the end of this story.) Crowdpac assigns politicians a numerical score ranging from 10L for extremely liberal to 10C for extremely conservative, with 0 representing somebody who’s perfectly centrist. Among the 2016 presidential candidates, for instance, Bernie Sanders ranks as most liberal with a score of 7.6L, while Rand Paul is most conservative with a score of 10C.

Crowdpac is able to rank donors in a similar way, based on the scores of candidates and groups they donate to. Here are the five most liberal CEOs, according to the firm's rankings:

5. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs (GS). Ideology score: 4.9L. That’s right, the Wall Street banker who runs a firm vilified as the “great vampire squid” has liberal leanings. But he doesn’t lean as far left as he used to. Since 2008, Blankfein has donated to both Republicans (Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Richard Shelby, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) and Democrats (Sen. Gary Peters, Rep. Greg Meeks). But Blankfein was more consistently Democratic before the financial crisis, giving to big names such as Hillary Clinton (then a New York senator), Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Blankfein’s biggest check, $28,500, went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2007—a pre-crisis year that may have represented peak bonhomie between Democrats and Wall Street. His donations to both parties have shrunk considerably since then.

It's worth noting that two other Wall Street CEOs -- James Gorman of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) --ranked 6 and 7 among the most liberal CEOs, just behind Blankfein. While it's obviously ironic that money men who gripe relentlessly about Washington overregulating Wall Street tend to be liberal, much of it probably has to do with the region they operate in. Both the city and state of New York are largely represented by Democrats, which means Wall Streeters must donate to the left if they want to support home-state politicians.  

4. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo (PEP): 5.5L. Nooyi chooses her candidates carefully, but always chooses Democrats. She has contributed modest sums to Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Attorney General Kamala Harris of California and Andrew Pepper, who lost a 2014 bid to become attorney general in Ohio.

3. Robert Iger, Walt Disney (DIS): 6.2L. Iger is a reliable and very active Democratic donor who has given $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the last two years and another $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He has put his money behind President Obama, California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and many other Dems. Iger has also contributed to California Gov. Jerry Brown and Harris, the state’s attorney general.

2. Roger Ferguson, TIAA-CREF: 8.9L. Ferguson isn’t a huge donor, but in 2008 he gave $2,300 to presidential candidate Barack Obama and $2,700 to the Democratic National Committee. His support of Democrats isn’t surprising. President Clinton appointed Ferguson to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 1997, with Ferguson becoming Fed vice chair in 1999. He has also served as an economic adviser to President Obama.

1. Larry Page, Google (GOOGL): 10L. Page doesn’t typically donate to candidates, but he has given money to campaigns in California supporting same-sex marriage and alternative energy. His biggest contribution on record was a $1 million donation in 2006 to help support Proposition 87, a ballot measure that would have taxed oil producers in the state in order to raise funds for research into alternative energy. Voters defeated the measure.

And here are the most conservative CEOs:

5. Eddie Lampert, Sears (SHLD). Ideology score: 6.7C.The billionaire hedge-fund manager and CEO donates below his weight, with most donations ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. But all the money goes to Republicans, including 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, former President George W. Bush, and back in the day, flat-taxer Steve Forbes, who ran for president in 1996 and 2000.

4. John Watson, Chevron (CVX): 6.7C. Since 2010, Watson has given $120,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, hitting the the annual maximum donation for that type of committee each year. He has donated lesser amounts to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and, in 2012, Mitt Romney’s campaign. Watson also donates occasionally to Democrats, including $2,600 he gave in 2014 to Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, an important energy-industry ally who ended up losing her reelection bid.

3. Greg Garland, Phillips 66 (PSX): 6.8C.This Houston oil CEO doesn’t donate a lot, but he’s earned his conservative stripes by contributing to Texas Reps. Pete Olson and Kevin Brady, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

2. Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP): 6.9C. The CEO of this Dallas pipeline company is a huge supporter of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, donating nearly $500,000 to his campaigns since 2006. Warren was also one of the biggest donors to the super PAC supporting former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential bid, kicking in $250,000. Other stalwart conservatives Warren has given to: Texas Rep. Joe Barton, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

1. Samuel Allen, Deere & Co. (DE): 7.3C Allen has donated to some of the most conservative candidates and groups Crowdpac tracks, including several candidates for statewide office in Iowa, where Allen lives. (Deere is based right across the Mississippi River in Moline, Ill.) He has also given to the Iowa Republican party and to Romney’s campaign in 2012. Among the winning candidates Allen has contributed to: Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Linda Miller, both from Iowa.

Here's the full methodology for generating this list: Crowdpac maps politicians across an ideological spectrum based on how they vote, the political behavior of groups they’re affiliated with and other factors. The left-to-right, 20-point scale ranges from 10L for extremely liberal to 10C for extremely conservative, with 0 representing somebody who’s perfectly centrist. As for donors, Crowdpac uses an algorithm to approximate their ideology, based on the scores of candidates and groups they donate to. So contributing to candidates who vote against same-sex marriage and abortion rights would earn a more conservative rating, while giving to environmental causes or gay-rights backers would earn a more liberal rating. How politically active a donor is, or how much he gives overall, doesn’t matter; ideology ratings reflect the types of candidates and causes donors are likely to support, not the depth of that support.

For this story, Crowdpac analyzed donations from CEOs of the 100 largest public U.S. companies, and Yahoo Finance considered only those CEOs who gave to two or more different causes or candidates during the last 15 years, to eliminate those who might have had a passing interest in a single issue. That kept a few prominent CEOs off our lists. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for instance, is a vocal supporter of gay rights, which suggests he’s probably a political liberal. But he’s donated to only one candidate, according to public records: Barack Obama, whose 2008 presidential campaign got $2,300 from Cook. So Cook didn’t make our rankings. And since we only analyzed public companies, the leaders of private companies such as Charles Koch, the conservative activist who's CEO of privately held Koch industries, didn’t make our list either. We did include TIAA-CREF because it reports earnings like a public company, even though it doesn't have traditional shareholders.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to indicate that John Deere is based in Illinois, not Iowa.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.