Democracy Reform Opponents Received Lion’s Share of 2018 Midterm Corporate PAC Dollars

Frank Bass | January 31, 2019

The 206 House members who haven’t agreed to support a major democracy reform package typically received about $150,000 more from corporate political action committees during the midterm elections than sponsors of the measure, according to a MapLight analysis.

The 228 sponsors of H.R. 1 -- which would make sweeping changes to the nation’s campaign finance, voting rights, and ethics laws -- received $47.1 million from corporate PACs during the 2018 election cycle. The 198 Republicans and eight Democrats who haven’t signed on to cosponsor the legislation reported almost $74.6 million.

The corporate PAC gifts worked out to an average of $206,651 for sponsors of the measure; lawmakers who haven’t agreed to support the legislation received an average of $362,116 from the corporate committees.

The campaign finance overhaul, which is the first piece of legislation introduced by the incoming Democratic House majority, would tilt the balance of financial power away from corporations by using tax dollars to amplify the impact of small donations. Although the contributions from big businesses generally represent only a small percentage of funds raised for congressional campaigns, corporate PAC donations have recently emerged as a litmus test for progressive activists.

Even so, the corporate donations made up significant shares of total gifts for many cosponsors, who received campaign funds from more than 1,000 corporate PACs. At least 146 cosponsors of the campaign finance overhaul reported $100,000 or more in corporate PAC donations. Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts cosponsor of the bill who received more money from corporate PACs than any other cosponsor, reported that almost $1.5 million of his $3.5 million in total contributions came from big businesses. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, took the second-most contributions from corporate PACs, with $1.5 million of his $4.2 million in campaign funds provided by business committees.

Republicans, including lawmakers who co-sponsored a massive, $1.5 trillion corporate tax cut in 2017, received larger corporate PAC contributions. At least 158 Republican House members took six-figure contribution totals from the corporate committees during the midterm elections, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The California Republican reported receiving $2.3 million of his $9.3 million total from corporate PACs. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican who sponsored the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, took $1.9 million of $5.4 million in total campaign fundraising from the business committees.

The committees that gave the most to sponsors of the overhaul include the largest government contractors in the United States. Honeywell International ($986,000), AT&T Inc. ($928,000), Boeing Co. ($855,000), Lockheed Martin Corp. ($745,500), and Northrop Grumman Corp. ($736,000) were the most generous corporate PAC donors. All have government contracts worth billions of tax dollars.

Only 18 House members either rejected corporate PAC money during the midterm elections or returned more corporate PAC donations from previous cycles than they received during the midterm elections. They included:

Rick Allen, R-Ga.
Colin Allred, D-Texas
Gilbert Cisneros, D-Calif.
Jason Crow, D-Colo.
Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.
Jared Golden, D-Maine
Conor Lamb, D-Penn.
Lucy McBath, D-Ga.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
Dean Phillips, D-Minn.
Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
David Roe, R-Tenn.
Francis Rooney, R-Fla.
Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.
John Sarbanes, D-Md.
Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
David Trone, D-Md.

Since the November contests, at least 49 House members -- including 36 first-term lawmakers -- have pledged to not accept money from the committees, according to End Citizens United, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest organization.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill earlier this week, and it’s already being debated in the Senate, where a GOP majority is expected to block passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who’s taken $5.4 million from corporate PACs during the last decade, has called it a “Democrat political power grab.”  

The story was produced by MapLight and published in partnership with Fast Company.