Billions invested, trillions returned in Congressional-lobbying efforts

Posted By: FiscalNote
Former Speaker of the House John Boehner answers questions from participants in the 27th annual Dayton, Ohio Community Leaders Washington, D.C. Fly-In. May 3, 2011. These fly-ins are common ways for organizations to get constituents to lobby for their interests. (Photo by the office of Speaker John Boehner / Flickr)
Former Speaker of the House John Boehner answers questions from participants in the 27th annual Dayton, Ohio Community Leaders Washington, D.C. Fly-In. May 3, 2011. These fly-ins are common ways for organizations to get constituents to lobby for their interests. (Photo by the office of Speaker John Boehner / Flickr)

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.

Lobbying spend far outpaces PAC contributions for businesses

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.

Year Amount Spent Lobbying (in Billions) PAC Money Towards Candidates (in Billions)
1998 1.45 0.2202
1999 1.44  
2000 1.57 0.2611
2001 1.63  
2002 1.83 0.2814
2003 2.06  
2004 2.19 0.3147
2005 2.44  
2006 2.63 0.3735
2007 2.87  
2008 3.3 0.4162
2009 3.5  
2010 3.52 0.4333
2011 3.33  
2012 3.31 0.4533
2013 3.24  
2014 3.25 0.4664
2015 3.22  
2016 0.82 0.2697

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.

179 Known Fixed Fortune Firms with Financial Rewards

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.

Number of Firms
Received More than they Spent 77.1
Did Not Receive More than they Spent 22.9

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.

Lobbying delivers staggering rewards for top players

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.

Organization Total Influence % Return Industry
USAA $38,400,000 4.557291667 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Genworth Financial $26,300,000 7.69581749 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Ernst & Young $19,900,000 9.472361809 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $123,200,000 9.745200487 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance $22,800,000 12.78689474 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
UnitedHealth Group $26,800,000 13.28358209 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Cigna Corp $11,500,000 14.06956522 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Northwestern Mutual $28,400,000 38.73239437 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
PricewaterhouseCoopers $23,700,000 41.45980591 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
KPMG LLP $13,700,000 73.35036496 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Prudential Financial $45,600,000 78.94736842 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Charles Schwab & Co $16,600,000 156.626506 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Hartford Financial Services $16,000,000 256.25 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Deloitte LLP $24,200,000 266.3140496 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Capital One Financial $11,200,000 321.4285714 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
American Express $20,300,000 443.4876847 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Metlife Inc $35,900,000 571.1309192 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
HSBC Holdings $18,700,000 737.9679144 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
US Bancorp $6,600,000 1129.19697 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
SAIC Inc $20,100,000 1518.9801 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Humana Inc $13,100,000 1572.519084 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Bank of New York Mellon $9,300,000 5850.204301 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Wells Fargo $32,500,000 6498.461538 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
SLM Corp $21,800,000 8799.807339 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
JPMorgan Chase & Co $52,100,000 9666.026871 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Bank of America $45,200,000 10535.39823 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Citigroup Inc $44,200,000 11443.43891 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Deutsche Bank AG $9,700,000 33835.05155 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
UBS AG $7,000,000 35585.71429 Accountants, Finance, and Insurance
Deutsche Telekom $25,600,000 3.560742188 Communications
CenturyLink $19,000,000 15.18947368 Communications
AT&T Inc $111,900,000 17.88918677 Communications
Level 3 Communications $4,100,000 18.02439024 Communications
Verizon Communications $104,700,000 33.42884432 Communications
Sprint Nextel $19,000,000 43.24736842 Communications
Harris Corp $19,500,000 76.92307692 Communications
Motorola Solutions $20,000,000 80 Communications
Computer Sciences Corp $9,500,000 2094.720263 Communications
Finmeccanica SpA $33,300,000 219.2192192 Defense Aerospace
United Technologies $70,400,000 644.4701705 Defense Aerospace
General Atomics $16,400,000 669.25 Defense Aerospace
Northrop Grumman $100,200,000 884.3073852 Defense Aerospace
General Dynamics $64,300,000 959.3888025 Defense Aerospace
L-3 Communications $28,200,000 1248.22695 Defense Aerospace
BAE Systems $34,600,000 1279.352601 Defense Aerospace
Raytheon Co $48,400,000 1809.665289 Defense Aerospace
Boeing Co $103,700,000 1813.574735 Defense Aerospace
Lockheed Martin $92,700,000 2204.183387 Defense Aerospace
American Electric Power $50,800,000 1.183070866 Energy
DTE Energy $10,300,000 1.854368932 Energy
Intel Corp $21,800,000 2.3105 Energy
ConocoPhillips $76,500,000 3.979631373 Energy
Entergy Corp $28,600,000 5.797202797 Energy
Southern Co $86,200,000 6.932714617 Energy
PPL Corp $8,900,000 7.561797753 Energy
Exelon Corp $37,600,000 7.752659574 Energy
Xcel Energy $13,200,000 9.159090909 Energy
Duke Energy $36,000,000 9.644444444 Energy
FirstEnergy Corp $14,100,000 16.92198582 Energy
Progress Energy $12,500,000 17.328 Energy
Edison International $14,800,000 18.87837838 Energy
Dominion Resources $13,200,000 24.46212121 Energy
Exxon Mobil $117,100,000 54.65414176 Energy
Valero Energy $6,400,000 968.75 Energy
PG&E Corp $89,000,000 1.042696629 Energy
Johnson & Johnson $42,600,000 3.504694836 Health
Bayer AG $38,900,000 4.128534704 Health
Roche Holdings $43,600,000 7.013761468 Health
Abbott Laboratories $33,400,000 13.53592814 Health
Medtronic Inc $26,000,000 25.35769231 Health
Boston Scientific Corp $11,700,000 28.17948718 Health
Pfizer Inc $94,100,000 43.5706695 Health
Novartis AG $40,700,000 52.34643735 Health
Procter & Gamble $25,000,000 72 Health
GlaxoSmithKline $43,200,000 87.96295896 Health
Merck & Co $46,600,000 180.2575107 Health
Express Scripts $10,300,000 203.8834951 Health
McKesson Corp $15,700,000 1878.980892 Health
Berkshire Hathaway $56,900,000 1.159929701 Manufacturing
CSX Corp $30,800,000 1.25 Manufacturing
Cisco Systems $15,000,000 1.32 Manufacturing
Dow Chemical $45,500,000 1.553846154 Manufacturing
EMC Corp $11,800,000 1.822033898 Manufacturing
BASF SE $8,800,000 3.479840909 Manufacturing
Emerson $7,300,000 5.04109589 Manufacturing
Cintas Corp $2,300,000 7.521956522 Manufacturing
Microsoft Corp $56,800,000 12.72007042 Manufacturing
Honeywell International $48,900,000 205.4662577 Manufacturing
General Electric $159,100,000 270.8988058 Manufacturing
Dell Inc $16,200,000 494.0246914 Manufacturing
AmerisourceBergen Corp $8,600,000 546.5116279 Manufacturing
MacAndrews & Forbes $12,700,000 913.3858268 Manufacturing
Home Depot $11,100,000 1.108108108 Other
Corning Inc $6,900,000 1.334666667 Other
California Dairies Inc $3,100,000 1.612903226 Other
Energy Future Holdings Corp $23,000,000 2.3 Other
Dean Foods $6,700,000 2.447761194 Other
Kindred Healthcare $14,700,000 2.870748299 Other
Marriott International $8,400,000 5.083333333 Other
International Paper $22,900,000 5.436179039 Other
Coca-Cola Co $32,500,000 5.901538462 Other
Blackstone Group $44,600,000 6.186098655 Other
TIAA-CREF $10,400,000 8.913461538 Other
Crawford Group $4,100,000 10.92682927 Other
American Crystal Sugar $13,100,000 11.73282443 Other
United Parcel Service $38,400,000 20.42460677 Other
McDonald's Corp $8,700,000 23.3908046 Other
Chevron Corp $80,900,000 25.07663782 Other
Oracle Corp $39,900,000 27.57062657 Other
PepsiCo Inc $26,700,000 36.75280899 Other
Timken Co $4,500,000 43.31111111 Other
Tyco International $13,500,000 46.94816007 Other
EnergySolutions Inc $4,400,000 74.54545455 Other
Land O'Lakes $5,300,000 78.41509434 Other
FedEx Corp $85,500,000 107.6900585 Other
Deere & Co $12,500,000 125.064 Other
General Mills $6,700,000 194.0810448 Other
Caterpillar Inc $20,100,000 196.9850746 Other
Hewlett-Packard $38,200,000 209.9240838 Other
Accenture $22,200,000 234.509009 Other
FMR Corp $18,900,000 285.7142857 Other
Textron Inc $33,400,000 353.9221557 Other
Cerberus Capital Management $16,500,000 527.2727273 Other
Ford Motor Co $43,900,000 537.5854214 Other
Cargill $9,600,000 677.0833333 Other
Shaw Group $9,000,000 755.5555556 Other
Parsons Corp $3,700,000 891.8918919 Other
Apollo Group $5,600,000 947.1964286 Other
General Motors $65,400,000 1070.336391 Other
Fluor Corp $9,000,000 1122.230811 Other
Federated Investors Inc $6,400,000 1593.75 Other
CH2M HILL $4,100,000 1835.536585 Other
Jacobs Engineering Group $4,400,000 1954.5955 Other
Carlyle Group $8,600,000 2232.55814 Other
Morgan Stanley $25,400,000 5019.685039 Other
Goldman Sachs $38,000,000 6036.842105 Other
Bechtel Group $5,000,000 6040.48 Other
Credit Suisse Group $16,900,000 13321.79882 Other

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.