Capital Markets

Companies’ $112M Political-Convention Tab

The figure is expected to grow much larger after an official list of donors is released in two months.
David McCannAugust 29, 2008

At least 173 organizations, the vast majority of them corporations, had donated to one or both of this year’s major-party conventions as of August 8, according to a report from the Campaign Finance Institute.

CFI did not break down the contributions by organization, but said private money for the conventions is expected to exceed $112 million, or about 80 percent of the events’ costs.

Among the 173 donating organizations that were identified on convention city “host committee” websites, 48 contributed to both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

The convention contributions were on top of other political donations made these organizations over the past few years. “As a group, the 173 donors have been heavily engaged in the struggle for federal political influence since the last presidential election,” CFI wrote. “Since 2005, their Political Action Committees, executives, and other employees have contributed, under campaign finance law limits, $180 million to federal candidates and political parties, an average of over $1 million per organization.”

Including this year’s convention contributions, on which there is no limit, the total donated amount tops $300 million since 2005.

During the same period, these donors have spent over $1.3 billion to lobby the federal government, according to CFI.

The actual amount of convention contributions is almost certainly much greater than that documented by CFI. The research, perfomed in conjunction with the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that the Democrats have far more donors than the Republicans (141 to 80), but “this is likely an artifact of the purely voluntary system of disclosure by convention host committees,” CFI wrote.

While the Democrats’ Denver Host Committee had been listing numerous new donors in late July and early August, the Republicans’ Minneapolis-Saint Paul Committee listed close to none, according to CFI. Yet both committees have similar-sized budgets.

Unlike other contributions benefiting federal parties and candidates that have to be revealed soon after they are made, there is no official disclosure of private convention donors and the amounts of their contributions until 60 days after the conventions conclude.

The companies donating to both conventions comprise only 28 percent of the total number, but they account for 44 percent of all federal contributions by the 173 organizations since 2005, and also 44 percent of their federal lobbying expenditures, CFI’s report said.

According to CFI, its information “further undermines the Federal Election Commission’s justification for this soft money loophole, namely that host committee contributions are motivated by a desire to promote the convention city and not by political considerations. Only 37 of 141 donors to the Denver convention are headquartered in Colorado, and while 31 of the 80 currently listed donors to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul convention are based in Minnesota, 10 of these (including such well known firms as Cargill, Best Buy, Target, United Health Care Group and Xcel Energy) are also donating to the Denver convention.”