Monday, December 22, 2014

Corporate Lobbying in America - An Excellent Return on Investment

A study, "Fixed Fortunes" by the Sunlight Foundation, looks at America's corporations, what they spent on both lobbying and campaign financing and what they got in return for their "generosity".

As we all know, corporate lobbying and political donations are a way of life in Washington.  If we look through a list of the top "heavy hitters", those organizations who have spent big on the political scene between 1989 and 2014 as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, it reads like a who's who of the corporate world:

Among the unions and other interest groups we see names like AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, Lockheed Martin and General Electric.

The analysis by the Sunlight Foundation focuses on the six year period between 2007 and 2012; the database used to complete the study necessitated the examination of 144 million records of lobbying expenditures, campaign donations and federal budget allocations and spending for 200 corporations.  If we look at what happened during the six year timeframe included in the study, you'll recall that we experienced the collapse of Wall Street and the banking sector, the collapse of the auto sector, the collapse of the housing sector, and a rise and fall in the number of troops used in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  The near collapse of the U.S. economy required massive deficit spending by the federal government on automakers and bankers at the same time as Main Street Americans were getting unceremoniously booted from their homes and jobs and the military was fighting a two-front battle.    

Let's start by looking at what U.S. corporations have spent in Washington on both campaign donations and federal lobbying.  Here is a table showing the top 50 corporate campaign contributors in order from greatest to least:

Please note that I've included a column showing the effective corporate tax rate when available.  You will also note that the corporate tax rate rarely approaches the headline 35 percent rate often touted as the reason why Corporate America cannot be competitive in a global market.

Here is a table showing the top 50 corporate lobbyists in order from greatest to least:

Over the six years from 2007 and 2012, the most politically active corporations in America spent a combined $5.775 billion on both campaign contributions and federal lobbying which is made up of $597.4 million in campaign contributions and $5.183 billion in lobbying.  While this seems like a lot of money, in fact, it pales in comparison to the benefits gained by the corporations in the form of both support and federal business.

Now, let's look at the benefits received by these politically philanthropic American corporations.   Here is a table showing the top 50 corporations in order from most federal business to least federal business:

Here is a table showing the top 50 corporations in order from most federal support to least federal support:

This last table reads like a who's who of Wall Street and the banking sector, doesn't it?  Over the six year period, Corporate America received a total of $4.446 trillion in "benefits" from Washington which was made up of $1.28 trillion in federal business and $3.167 trillion in federal support.  It is important to keep in mind that many of the corporations listed also received subsidies from various states, in fact, according to Subsidy Tracker, Citigroup which is the number one federal subsidy recipient, also received the following state level subsidies totalling $286.5 million, mainly since 2007:

In the case of Citigroup, most of these state-level subsidies are in the form of tax credits and rebates, property tax abatements and training reimbursements.

Looking a bit further into the database, we find the following:

1.) Out of the total of 20,500 paid lobbying clients in Wash, one percent (or the 200 clients/corporations that included in the listing above) were responsible for 26 percent of all spending on lobbying.

2.) During the six year period of the study, the government issued contracts to purchase goods and services from the private sector that totalled just over $3 trillion.  Of that, the top 200 corporate political givers won $1 trillion worth or nearly one-third of the value of all contracts issued.

3.) Of the 200 corporations in the study, researchers were able to compile the federal financial rewards for 179 corporations.  Of the 179, 138 received more from the federal government than they spent on politics and 102 corporations received more than 10 times what they spent on federal politics.  If you think that is bad, 29 or 16 percent of the 179 corporations received 1000 times or more from the federal government than they spent on both lobbying and political donations.  I'd say that's a pretty good return on "an investment".

4.) Among the companies with the biggest return on their political investments we find three foreign financial service and banking firms, including Deutsche Bank of Germany, UBS and Credit Suisse group from Switzerland, all of which benefitted when the Treasury Department, aka the American taxpayer, bailed out American International Group during the 2008 - 2009 crisis.

To summarize, average political spending, including both donations and lobbying, for the 200 corporations in the study was $28,875,947.  Average federal business and support for the 22 corporations was $22,229.957,060.  That's a return of $760 for every dollar "invested".

And that's what we call an "excellent return on investment"!


  1. Quid pro quo and legalized bribery is all it really is. But the thing is ok so most of your blogs readers already know about this or should, the question really is what is going to change this culture of accepted corruption?

  2. Very nice article. It has become so "assumed" that this goes on, that no one is really paying attention to it. But most people, I suspect, do not realize the extent of the corruption. That is a big mistake. So as Anonymous said - what are we going to do about it. First and foremost, we need more people to be aware of what is going on - and to what extent. The American people need to better understand who is really controlling the government.

    I have stated many times on my own blog, there is no such thing as "free market capitalism". Without a strong governmental financial, legal and regulatory infrastructure, there is no capitalism as we know it. So, when the wealthy and large corporate interests scream for less government involvement, what they really mean is, I want to be able to influence government regulations in my favor. It's a game, and they are winning, because in true Orwellian fashion, they've hookwinked the average American.

  3. If your goal of this article was to make me cringe then "mission accomplished!" Those who look closely understand that it is not the 1% at the top stealing the icing off the cake, but the much smaller .1% or .01% that are skewing the numbers and overreaching. I contend the biggest problem with America is the massive growth in crony capitalism and corruption in Washington.

    Much of this can be attributed to the ability of those in control "changing the rules" and positioning themselves to benefit at every corner. In our busy and complex world we have found it impossible to watch all the moving parts. More on how this incestuous mess leads to collapse in the article below.