You're not going to believe this, but corporate executives love to donate money to political campaigns. Well, they don't necessarily love it, but they prefer it to the alternative - having no impact on elections and ultimately, policy. While it's true that elections in the United States are purely democratic, and that a Wall Street CEO's vote counts as much as a welfare recipient's, a well-financed candidate does have an unmistakable advantage over a candidate who receives less in donations. The former can afford better advertising production, print more flyers and put more miles on his campaign bus. Those little differences can turn a weak candidate of sufficient malleability from a non-entity to a primary winner to an officeholder, all in short order. Grassroots candidates still exist - Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul continues to draw millions of dollars from private citizens - but such candidates rarely succeed on the national stage.
Cutting Big Checks
So, which corporations cut the largest checks with "influence" written in the memo field? At the top of the list is a company that was disassembled and sold for parts as a result of the biggest antitrust case in history - AT&T. The former monopoly, now known to a new generation exclusively as a mobile provider, has donated close to $50 million to candidates of both parties over the last 22 years, according to OpenSecrets.org. Not surprisingly, for a company with tens of millions of customers and a public image to uphold, AT&T's donation breakdown by party has been close to even. The company's largest individual recipient in the last election cycle was John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House; but the next name on the list is that of President Obama, a Democrat.

Here's something that'll delight both Democrat and Republican fans of investment bankers receiving taxpayer largesse: Over the same period listed above, the next most "generous" company in America is Goldman Sachs (to the extent that it's easy to donate money to incumbent candidates who direct just under $13 billion in taxpayer money your way according to USA Today.) The infamous Wall Street charity case donated over $37 million to political campaigns, its most recent large beneficiary being Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (again, followed by President Obama). If you wonder why an entity would donate money to both the incumbent and to his presumptive opponent, instead of just donating to neither … unfortunately, that's politics.

Citigroup received $25 billion in 2008's Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the Wall Street Journal, making it easy to return a small percentage of such in political donations. Citigroup's two largest recent individual recipients, like Goldman Sachs's, are also Romney and Obama (in the same order.) Citigroup's donations are split almost exactly down the middle between the parties.

UPS Donates
What can brown do for you? Plenty of green, if you're sufficiently connected. United Parcel Service is second only to AT&T among non-TARP beneficiaries on the list of corporate political donors, and is fourth overall. UPS focuses on races further down the ballot, and in more modest amounts. In the last year it specialized in four-digit donations, and those almost exclusively to candidates for the House of Representatives. Not surprisingly, almost all of that money went to incumbents. There's a reason why turnover on Capitol Hill is about as infrequent as it was in the old Soviet Politburo.

No major corporate contributor quite skews its donations to one party as does the next company on the list, Altria. The maker of cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Benson & Hedges, Altria gave $18.7 million to Republican candidates and about $7 million to Democratic candidates. Perhaps tobacco companies are less interested in public perception than are the other companies who split their donations evenly. Altria could afford to sow some political goodwill after the colossal $246 billion tobacco settlements of 1998.

If there's anything noteworthy about the corporations that donate the most money to political candidates, it's how few industries they represent and which industries are largely absent. Two of the next three on the list are yet more investment banks (and TARP recipients), JPMorgan Chase at $24 million and Morgan Stanley at $22 million. They sandwich Microsoft, the defendant in one of the largest cases ever undertaken by the Department of Justice. Fellow tech mammoths Google and Apple remain largely absent. In order, the next few companies that appear are investment bank Morgan Stanley, media conglomerate Time Warner, then Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Verizon and Bank of America.

The Bottom Line
Again, we're only discussing donations from corporations to candidates. Which doesn't even begin to cover all the political money in the system. We're excluding corporate executives' personal donations, and those to entities other than candidates. If a high-powered CEO wants to donate a few million to a political action committee, or a party's own Senatorial or Congressional campaign committee, it doesn't show on our list.

If there's a lesson to take from this, it's that everyone has an agenda - and in a constitutional republic, money is the most efficient way to get that agenda into the consciousness of the decision makers.

Related Articles
  1. Economics

    How Bernie Sanders Has Avoided Big Money (Mostly)

    Bernie Sanders hasn't entirely avoided PACs with his fundraising, but he has gotten a lot of bang for the buck
  2. Investing News

    Obama Wants to Double Wall Street Regulation

    President Obama wants to double the budgets of the SEC and the CFTC over the next five years.
  3. Economics

    Does Big Money Hurt or Help Clinton and Rubio?

    Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton lead their parties in raising money from Wall Street. Is that a help or a hindrance?
  4. Fundamental Analysis

    The Evolution of Obamacare Since Its Inception

    Find out whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has lived up to its lofty projections from 2010.
  5. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Lockheed Martin Stock (LMT)

    Learn about defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, its leadership within its industry, and how the company can stay on top as the defense landscape changes.
  6. Investing News

    Chipotle Served with Criminal Probe

    Chipotle's beat muted expectations and got a clear bill from the CDC, but it now appears that an investigation into its E.coli breakout has expanded.
  7. Stock Analysis

    China Mobile: Just How Big is It? (CHL, CHU, CHA)

    The story behind China Mobile, the biggest company you might never have heard of.
  8. Markets

    The (Expected) Market Impact of the 2016 Election

    With primary season upon us, investor attention is beginning to turn to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
  9. Economics

    Trump vs. Bloomberg: How They Compare

    If Bloomberg enters the presidential race how will he compare to billionaire brethren Trump?
  10. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Economic Changes to Expect if a Republican Wins in 2016

    Discover the five most likely economic changes the United States can expect if a Republican wins the presidential election in 2016.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How much money does Florida make from unclaimed property each year?

    Each year, goods such as money, financial investments and physical property are either auctioned off or appraised before ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How much money does New York make from unclaimed property each year?

    According to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, types of unclaimed property accounts include bank accounts, wages, ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the Social Security administration responsible for?

    The main responsibility of the U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, is overseeing the country's Social Security program. ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Where are the Social Security administration headquarters?

    The U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, a suburb just outside of Baltimore. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Is the Social Security administration a government corporation?

    The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) is a government agency, not a government corporation. President Franklin Roosevelt ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does the role of Medicare/Medicaid affect the drugs sector in the U.S.? (UNH, ...

    Medicare and Medicaid have enormous influence on the pharmaceutical, or drugs, sector in the United States. For instance, ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  2. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  3. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  4. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  5. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  6. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
Trading Center