There is a common practice in the United States in which corporations invest billions of dollars towards the government and receive trillions of dollars back – highly effective lobbying. Studies show that firms spend an average of ten times more on lobbying efforts than corporate-sponsored PACs spend on political campaigns, while data from OpenSecrets shows that all lobbying totals on average four times the amount of PAC contributions.
The Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to government accountability, examined the 200 corporations that spent the most on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. From 2007 to 2012, these “Fixed Fortune” corporations spent approximately $5.8 billion and received $4.4 trillion back in terms of federal business and support.
Corporate and association-sponsored PACs have been raising over a billion dollars in each of the last several election cycle – every two years. Outpacing that, however, is lobbying expenses by corporations and association – totaling over 6 billion dollars for the same two-year period.
Note: Only groups that made contributions during the past two years were included in the analysis. Lobbying expenses include corporate and association activities. PAC money is recorded every other year, and coincides with the election cycles. Data from 2016 is as of June 6, 2016.
The Sunshine Foundation described the firms as “persistent and savvy political players” that tended to attract federal money regardless of which party was in control of the White House. But how do the numbers really break down?
From the 200 firms that were studied, 179 reported financial rewards from the government. 138 of those 179 firms received more money from the federal government than they had invested in lobbyists or contributed to PACs.
According to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, 77.1 percent of studied firms received more in terms of financial rewards in the form of government contracts or concessions, than they spent on politics.
Thirty-seven of those 138 firms received financial rewards from the government less than ten times what they spent on political influences, while 28 received rewards that were 1000 times or more than what they invested. The remaining 102 fell in between.
According to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, 69 percent of studied firms that had PACs and lobbyists received financial rewards in the form of government contracts or concessions. Click items in the legend to hide an industry.
Note: The axes in this chart are plotted on a logarithmic scale. Corporations on the far right received far more benefit from lobbying than those on the left.
According to the Citizens United v. FEC (2010) case, individuals do not gain monetarily from their political donations towards PACs. Regardless, donors want a return on their investment.
If PAC donors received as much return on their investment as lobbying corporations did, then a greater proportion of the American population would be incentivized to give political donations. Ultimately, it’s much harder to sway an election than influence a representative who already holds office, and the spending reflects that.