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_ 'Pre-Campaign' PACS Help Would-Be Presidents (Nov. 25, 1997)

Business Donations Show Money Follows the Leaders

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 1997; Page A04

The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 prompted a massive shift in corporate America's political contributions, with the GOP's share of donations from business PACs and individual business donors growing from 49 percent in 1993-94 to 63 percent in 1995-96, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The study, which analyzed 1.2 million individual contributions and 230,000 political action committee contributions, showed what executive director Kent C. Cooper called an "abrupt flip-flop" in giving after Congress changed hands.

It found that the switch in PAC giving was the most dramatic, with Republicans collecting nearly 70 percent of all business PAC money in 1995-96, compared with less than half in the previous election cycle, when Democrats controlled both houses.

On an industry-by-industry basis, Democratic candidates received a smaller slice of PAC and individual contributions from every sector of the economy than they had two years earlier.

The biggest change was in defense industry contributions, which rose from 39 percent Republican in 1993-94 to 70 percent in 1995-96. Energy and natural resources giving went from 57 percent to 77 percent Republican. Even lawyers and lobbyists, traditionally Democratic donors, upped their Republican giving from 27 percent to 38 percent.

"It paints a pretty dark picture for Democrats in the foreseeable future," said the study's author, Larry Makinson.

The report showed that business interests overall made $653.4 million in soft money, political action committee and individual contributions in 1995-96, more than 11 times the $58.1 million that came from organized labor. Sixty percent of all business contributions went to Republicans, while 93 percent of labor's giving went to Democrats.

Although Democrats complain about the GOP's advantage in soft money – the unlimited donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals – the difference in business soft money giving between the two parties was actually less dramatic than the gap in individual and PAC contributions. Republicans held a 54 percent to 46 percent advantage over Democrats in raising soft money from business interests.

The study put the final price tag for the 1996 election at $2.2 billion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history. The average winning campaign for the House cost $673,000 in 1996, 30 percent more than in 1994. The average Senate seat cost $4.7 million, just a shade up from the $4.6 million average two years earlier.

Leading the pack in total contributions – soft money, political action committee, and individual donations by employees and their immediate family members – was Philip Morris Inc., with $4.2 million in contributions last election cycle, 79 percent to Republicans.

The next eight largest contributors were labor unions and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, also a heavy Democratic giver.

Among the fastest growing industries in political giving were casinos and gambling interests, which contributed $2.2 million in 1995-96, 83 percent more than two years earlier. Of the money, 57 percent went to Republicans.

In contrast, the 1996 elections saw a large drop-off in spending by abortion rights and environmental groups. Abortion rights groups spent 37 percent less, or $1.1 million, and environmental groups $34 percent less, also $1.1 million. But the groups ran separate "issue advocacy" advertising campaigns, which may account for the difference.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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