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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
US companies donate in return for access
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC News North American business correspondent

John Kerry
Lawyers support Kerry...

The Democrats have been playing what they hope is a trump card in this election.

The Republicans, the allegation runs, are in hock to corporate America which shovels money into their coffers and gets in return all kinds of favours from softening environmental regulation to tax reductions.

The Bush administration cares more, as John Kerry spelt out the accusation, "about the general welfare of large corporations and particularly the drug industry, the oil industry and other rich people who can make a difference in Washington with all that lobbying and all that money".

Except that it isn't quite as simple as that.

The Democrats get quite a lot of corporate money too.

Both ways

It's very difficult to work out the exact figures because corporations as such are forbidden from directly funding candidates.

President George W Bush
... bankers back Bush

Instead, individuals within companies give and that gets counted as part of a donation from a company.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group, has done some of the sums and concluded earlier in the month that in the 2004 election (Congressional as well as presidential) the Democrats have been given $418m by business compared with $564m to the Republicans (43% to 57%).

It's not possible to break this total down for the presidential campaign alone but it's still clear that although Republicans do better from business, Democrats do nicely too.

Financiers and lawyers

The biggest donations to John Kerry's campaign are from the University of California ($487,000) and Harvard University ($320,000) followed by Time Warner ($268,000) and Microsoft ($261,000).

For the Bush campaign, the biggest donors are Morgan Stanley ($573,000), Merrill Lynch ($546,000) and PricewaterhouseCoopers ($499,000).

Indeed, Wall Street's big investment banks dominate the Bush donors' list.

Broadly, lawyers and law firms supported Kerry more than Bush ($19 million to $11 million) and the big investment banks supported Bush more than Kerry ($8 million to $4 million).


Businesses often give to both.

Bush got $292,000 from Citigroup compared with Kerry's $257,000 from the same company.

Microsoft gave Bush $186,000, $70,000 less than it gave Kerry's campaign.

Lobbyists for companies get to put a corporate position and get to feel the political breeze before it turns into a wind that might blow bad things in its direction.
This corporate two-way stance is not just that companies are cynical in their donations - they're not just hedging their bets.

It's also that different people in different bits of a company might give to different political causes.

Bill Gates, for example, tends to bestow more largesse on Democrats but others in the company tend towards Republicans so the balance shifts (it's currently moving towards the Democrats).


What do they get for their money?

Companies, after all, are not charities. They have a legal obligation to look after their shareholders so money out ought to mean some benefit in.

What they get above all is access.

If the chief executive of Ford or GE calls the White House, phones in the Oval Office get picked up.

Lobbyists for companies get to put a corporate position and get to feel the political breeze before it turns into a wind that might blow bad things in its direction.

Microsoft, for example, took the view until just under ten years ago that it didn't need to dirty its hands with politics.

In 1995, the budget for its Political Action Committee was $16,000. Now, it's well over $1.5m.

Then, they had precisely one lobbyist in Washington; now, they have swarms of them.


Which is not to say that donating to political causes is an out-and-out cynical gesture.

There are billionaires who give to the Democrats because they believe social cohesion and a lesser spread of income and wealth are important in their own right if not for the economy.

There are billionaires who give to the Republicans because they believe taxes will be lower and, therefore, growth higher.

What is clear is that democracy doesn't come cheap.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics calculates that this year's presidential and congressional elections will cost just short of $4bn, the most ever.

The big unanswered question: who benefits from largesse - interest groups or the common voter?

Kerry blasts Bush for 'silences'
26 Oct 04 |  Americas


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