Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Corporate PAC Contributions Shifting to Democrats

This week's Wall Street Journal has an interesting front-page story on the shift in corporate political donations away from Repubicans in Congress to the new Democrat majority on the Hill. Members of the Democrats' House leadership have been the biggest winners of this changing tide of campaign contributions:

The top four House leaders -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and their main lieutenants -- raised a combined $2.24 million in the first quarter of 2007, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. That was more than three times as much as the $697,694 they raised in the first quarter of 2005, the comparable period in the previous two-year election cycle.
Also, the ubiquitous House Ways and Means Chairman -- Charles Rangel of Harlem -- has seen his contributions spike to $761,000 in the first quarter of this year, compared to $57,000 two years ago. Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell has also raked-in the cash, raising $376,000 compared to $112,000 for earlier totals. And don't forget ultra-liberal Barney Frank, who cashed-in during the 2007 first quarter with $217,000, up from a paltry $39,000 for the same period two years earlier.

What's interesting is the bipartisan nature of corporate giving -- corporate PACs tend to give to the party in power, irrespective of ideological affinities. While that may seem unprincipled, it's actually strategic politics: Those in power, especially the powerful committee chairmen, have the influence to affect the financial interests of entire sectors of industry. Corporate PACs are making safe bets. Gary Jacobson, the author of
The Politics of Congressional Elections, notes that in earlier years business PACs tended to favor the GOP. But the patterns of corporate giving have become more "even-handed" in recent years. Here's what Jacobson notes about trends in business PAC donations in more recent times (from the Third Edition, p. 66):

They are generous to incumbents of either party who are in postions to help or hurt their interests and likely to remain there; thus for the short run, they strive to keep doors open and to avoid antagonizing Democratic members who look unbeatable.
Note that a large number of freshman Democrats in the House are extremely vulnerable heading into 2008, especially those running for reelection in Republican leaning districts. So we may see business PAC giving shift more toward GOP members in upcoming quarters as the analysis of incumbent reelection prospects becomes more focused.

Also, check out this quote from the Journal's piece, which reinforces the idea of even-handed corporate giving:

Overall, corporate PACs gave 56.6% of their $6.2 million in contributions to Democrats in the first quarter of 2007, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, another nonpartisan tracker of political funds. During the whole of the previous campaign cycle -- the two years that ended with the 2006 elections -- Democrats got just 34.1% of the $140.6 million that corporate PACs gave to congressional candidates.

Big companies that have shifted their funding in Democrats' favor so far this year include General Dynamics Corp., whose PAC gave 62% of its $210,500 in contributions to Democrats in early 2007, compared with 64% to Republicans in the previous election cycle. PACs for Honeywell International Inc., Home Depot Inc. and insurer Aflac Inc. have also greatly increased the proportion of their giving to Democrats.

Officials at those companies caution against drawing conclusions from one quarter's worth of data in a two-year campaign cycle, saying the balance will swing back toward Republicans in the coming months. "Over time we find that [contributions] even out, that we're pretty bipartisan," says Aflac spokeswoman Laura Kane. "Expect it to get closer to 50-50."
Also of interest here is how the trends in corporate political contributions relate to the campaign finance regulatory regime. One of the orginal purposes of the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) was to limit the overall amount of money flowing into the political system. The facts show just the opposite, with the amount of money on congressional campaigns doubling every decade.

If you'd like more information from the blogosphere on the trends in campaign finance -- and especially some penetrating criticism of money reforms like the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act -- check out some of the campaign posts over at Betsy's Page, for example
here (on McCain-Feingold's fifth anniversary) and here (on Hillary Clinton's decision to opt-out of public financing and the likely demise of the campaign finance regulatory system).

No comments: