Top 10 Companies to ‘Donate’ the Most Money in the 2016 Election

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

There’s no question that the 2016 presidential race is already heating up, even though the presidential primaries are still more than a year away. As candidates continue to announce their candidacies, the next steps are to begin strategies that will help them raise the millions (or billions) of dollars that is now typically used to run for office. In the 2012 election cycle, candidates in every facet of the federal government spent a total of $6.3 billion in attempts to either retain or win their seat at the political table.

That election year was the most expensive to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spent a combined $1.12 in the presidential race alone, not counting the millions raised by other candidates in the field before they ceded the race. We all know that money speaks, and businesses that want their interests protected in future years are contributing more and more funds to the races. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) does not allow corporations to use their treasury money to bankroll political elections, but there are plenty of loopholes that allow companies to support the candidates they choose.

This political involvement can come in the form of a company’s CEO making a large individual donation from his or her own savings account, but it can also come through the formation of political action committees, or PACs. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations had no cap on the amount of money they could contribute to PACs, dramatically changing the political fundraising landscape.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

It’s too soon to say which companies have already begun contributing to certain candidates like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and other emerging candidates, as disclosure forms won’t become a monthly requirement until 2016 begins. Ted Cruz is the first candidate to report any official numbers to the FEC, and raised $4.3 million before his first report, $1.5 of that coming from Texas. More disclosures will follow soon, as Reuters reports super PACs collected $31 million for Cruz following his March candidacy announcement, and Rubio aims to raise $40 million for the season leading up to the primary next spring.

Despite the murkiness of campaign finance, past records from 2012 and the midterm elections of 2014 show which companies are more likely to contribute to Democratic or Republican candidates. Some, in efforts to get the most from both sides, donate to groups on both sides of the aisle. Here’s a list of 10 companies that have donated significant sums of money in past years, and where they’re likely to direct their money for 2016 if they get involved. 

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

 1. Las Vegas Sands

The resort and casino is a major Las Vegas destination, and also employs several lobbyists that advocate for advantageous casino and gambling legislation. In an overview of all election cycles, the Center for Responsive Politics shows the company ranks 7th in total contributions, totaling $69.3 million. All of that money is distributed to various candidates, outside advertising groups, or PACs that support Republican and conservative causes. In 2014, the corporation contributed $6.6 million toward the elections and reported almost $1.1 million in lobbying costs.

Las Vegas Sands’ Chairman and CEO, Sheldon Adelson, is well known for his political interests. Forbes lists his net worth at $29 billion, and he reportedly spent $100 million in 2012 trying to get a Republican president elected. In February of this year, Adelson signed on to support Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.

2. AT&T

The telecommunications company ranks 12th in giving for all election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company has split funds among Democratic and Republican causes, though has skewed toward the right with 58% of contributions going red. In 2014, the company reported contributions of almost $4.3 million to election-related causes, including supporting Republican Congressmen Pete Sessions and John Cornyn, who both represent AT&T’s home state of Texas.

Many of the company’s contributions were broken up among recipients in small amounts, the largest being $216,707 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $82,315 to the Republican National Committee. Though it’s hard to say for sure, speculation about Republicans’ willingness to allow unhindered large-scale corporate mergers faster than Democrats could be a part of that motivation.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

3. Goldman Sachs

Overall, Goldman Sachs has given $51.6 million in political contributions since the Center began keeping records in 2002. About 54% of those funds have gone toward Democratic or liberal causes, though that wasn’t the case in the 2012 election. Goldman Sachs was the top contributor to Mitt Romney’s campaign, giving more than $1 million toward Romney’s cause.

Goldman Sachs contributed about $4.7 million in the 2014 midterm election cycle, with more than $465,000 of that going to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The firm spent most of its money on groups and special interests, but did support Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with $96,625 in contributions.

4. Microsoft

The tech companies aren’t likely to be left out of anything in American culture, and politics is no exception. Microsoft was the No. 2 top contributor to President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, donating more than $815,000 to the Democratic incumbent. Microsoft ranks 37th in overall campaign contributions, according to the center, with 56% of its historical $32 million going toward Democratic or liberal causes.

Microsoft PACs play a large role in the company’s political activities, with almost $1 million of the company’s $2.9 million from 2014 coming from PAC contributions. As in 2012, donations to Democratic causes headlined the receipts in 2014.



5. Google

Not to be outdone by the software giant, Google has also donated to political causes in past election cycles. As at Microsoft, PACs are popular vehicles for contribution at Google, and the company gave $3.8 million in 2014, surprisingly even higher than its contributions of $3.5 million in 2012. Google shares the love of campaign money among Democrats and Republicans, but in 2014 gave more funding to the Democratic Senatorial Committee than its Republican counterpart ($162,270 and $99,600, respectively).

Google hasn’t made the top 100 list of all-time contributing groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but did rank No. 49 in 2014. Among President Obama’s top contributors in 2012, Google ranks third with $804,249 in contributions to the incumbent. One other interesting thing to note: Google reported spending $16.8 million for lobbying purposes in 2014, up from $15.8 million in 2013.

6. Koch Industries

The company, a multi-national corporation that touches everything from chemical manufacturing to ranching and energy production, is owned by the infamous Charles and David Koch, typically referred to as ‘the Koch brothers.’ The two men are known for raising enormous sums of money for political causes (in 2012 it was a reported $400 million), and their names are often synonymous with right-leaning ideals.

Because of the namesake, it’s almost impossible to separate the company the two own with the brothers’ activism. Koch Industries has contributed $28.2 million since 2002. Despite lower amounts over the course of several years, the company was heavily involved in the 2014 midterms. Of the total $10.8 million contributed through the company for that cycle, $7 million was donated to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a special interest group that denounces Obama’s policies and promotes free markets.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

7. Pfizer

Among the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Pfizer is also one of the most politically active. The company ranks 74th in all campaign cycles on the center’s website, and raised $2.2 million for 2014. In contrast, the company reported spending $9.5 million on lobbying efforts in 2014. The drug company, best known for producing Viagra, is largely supportive of Republican and conservative causes. Their overall historical split shows that about 65% of all contributions have gone toward those political leanings.

In that sense, 2014 was no different. The company did contribute to both parties in the midterm elections, but spent a larger portion of its fund on the Republican Senate and Congressional races. By contrast, leading pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson only contributed $755,000 in 2014.

8. Lockheed Martin

It should come as no surprise that the companies who rely on government spending the most would also have a vested interest in who is running it. Enter defense contractors. Lockheed Martin is one of the largest companies in this area and ranks No. 42 in overall campaign contributions, with a total of $29.7 million in company contributions. That figure is split between the parties, with Republicans receiving about 57% of the total proceeds.

Lockheed Martin raised $4.1 million for campaigns in 2014 and spent an astounding $14.6 million for lobbying. Of its interests in 2014, the company’s donors chose to support candidates above groups, namely Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas, Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, and Congresswoman Kay Granger from Texas.

 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

9. Wal-Mart

The retail giant ranks 94th out of unions, groups, and companies to make campaign contributions over the past 13 years. The stores’ PACs are more active than individual contributions, and together the company contributed almost $2.4 million for the 2014 midterms. The company is fairly divided among partisan lines in its contributions, with 65% going toward Republican and conservative initiatives.

Wal-Mart isn’t the only big box retailer to contribute in significant ways, and the trend continue to grow. Some of America’s largest big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart and other stores like Home Depot, were instrumental in raising money that ballooned from $5.2 million in 2000 to $33.7 million in 2012, dropping only slightly in 2014 to $29.8 million. In many cases, the companies are hoping that elected officials will lean their way toward issues surrounding labor and corporate finance.

10. Chevron

Rounding out our list is Chevron, which we’ll use as a placeholder for all energy companies. The energy company decidedly supports Republican and conservative ideals, contributing 82% of its $17.8 million over the last 12 years to right-leaning causes. Chevron ranks 89th in the top 100 of the decade, though Exxon Mobile follows not far behind at No. 96 with contributions totaling $16.8 million.

Chevron contributed $2.1 million in the 2014 midterms, most notably the right-leaning Congressional Leadership Fund and candidates including Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and former Louisiana Congresswoman Mary Landrieu, who lost her seat to Republican Bill Cassidy.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS

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