Corporate PACs have already distributed more than $21 million to the 69 most vulnerable House Republican incumbents seeking re-election this November, according to a ThinkProgress analysis of July MapLight data. The seven vulnerable Democratic incumbents have received significantly less corporate PAC support: on average, about a third less each over the same time frame.
While it is illegal for corporations to directly donate to federal candidates, a loophole has long allowed companies to effectively bankroll like-minded politicians. The company sets up a corporate political action committee (PAC), solicits contributions from its top executives and other employees, and distributes the collected totals to the campaigns of politicians friendly to the company’s interests.
Historically, corporate PACs have typically given the bulk of their money to re-elect House and Senate incumbents. The contributions ensure access to current lawmakers for company lobbyists and lets them keep in place the people with a proven record of voting for their causes. This Congress, the Trump tax cuts were the most significant legislative action taken in favor of corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that the bulk of corporate PAC money is now going to defend the GOP majority that enacted them.
On average, a vulnerable Republican incumbent received a total of about $312,036 so far this election cycle, as of the July data. The average Democratic incumbent received only $217,691. The average amount given to challengers was not even in the five-figures. Put simply, the playing field for incumbents — particularly Republican incumbents — is massively slanted in their favor thanks to this financial advantage.
Though corporate PACs gave much less in competitive open-seat races, there was a strong pro-GOP tilt evident there too: the average Republican nominee in those races had received about $5,630, the average Democratic nominee just about $2,977. Several candidates have stated that they will accept no corporate PAC money for their campaigns, while some appear to have just not received any.
Stephen Spaulding, chief of strategy and external affairs for Common Cause, said that this corporate special interests money is all too often “the coin of the realm in Washington.” He told ThinkProgress, “Corporate PACs bankroll Congress because they can earn a powerful return on investment. Exhibit A is the massive tax cut that Congressional Republicans gave corporate America last year. American democracy is supposed to be premised upon everyone having an equal vote and an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. When big money sets the agenda in Washington, we the people lose. We need to pass fundamental reforms to empower small dollar donors to participate in funding campaigns and incentivize more candidates to talk voters and solving problems and less dependent on the dialing-for-dollars system that everyone agrees is broken.”