Robert Weissman on 27 Sep 2000 23:58:22 -0000

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<nettime> Withering Democracy

Withering Democracy
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

For all but the ideologically committed or deluded few who believe
corporations and their executives make contributions out of a sense of
civic obligation, there can be little doubt that the U.S. campaign finance
system is fundamentally corrupt, and corrupting.

But it would be a mistake to make this observation and reach the obvious
conclusion that the current system of private contributions must be
replaced by a system of public financing, and then fail to dig further.
Because the available campaign finance data provides a host of insights
into the pattern of corporate investment in politics and politicians in
the United States.

Superb new data collections from the invaluable Center for Responsive
Politics (CRP, data at detail the nature of major
industrial sector contribution patterns over the last decade, compiling
contributions from individuals affiliated with industries, political
action committee (PAC) contributions and soft money donations (made to the
political parties). Here is some of what their data shows:

1. Every single major industrial sector except for communications/
electronics now favors the Republican Party. The CRP industry groupings
are: agribusiness; communications/electronics; construction; defense;
energy/natural resources; finance/insurance/real estate; health;
transportation; and a catch-all miscellaneous business category, including
liquor, casinos, chemicals, food, advertising, steel production and

The communications/electronics contributions lean slightly toward the
Democrats, powered by contributions from Hollywood. The TV/movie/music
sector, constituting about a third of overall donations from the
communications/electronics sector, gives more than 60 percent of its
contributions to Democrats.

2. Despite the overall tilt to the Republicans, every major industrial
sector contributes large sums to the Democrats as well. Agribusiness and
energy/natural resources, two of the most pro-Republican industries, gave
the Democrats $69 million and $64 million, respectively, in the election
cycles from 1990 to 2000.

3. The only reliably Democratic supporters are lawyers/lobbyists
(reflecting trial lawyer contributions) and labor. Lawyers/lobbyists
directed nearly 70 percent of their contributions to the Democrats. Labor
sent more than 90 percent of its monies to the Dems.

4. The major shift to the Republicans followed the 1994 elections, in
which the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. Corporate
contributions generally flow to the majority party, both because it has
more incumbents and the companies seek to win influence with those in
office, and because the majority party controls the legislative agenda.

5. Of the major industrial sectors, agribusiness, construction,
energy/natural resources and transportation, plus the miscellaneous
business category, appear firmly entrenched in the Republican camp. They
favored the Republicans even when they were the minority in Congress, and
now favor them by large margins. The health industries and
finance/insurance/real estate both give about 60 percent of their
contributions to the Republicans, while defense gives an even higher share
to the GOP, but each of these sectors split their contributions relatively
evenly when the Democrats controlled Congress. Communications/electronics
companies now divide their contributions evenly, and favored the Democrats
in the elections through 1994.

6. The broad sector totals may in some cases obscure differences within
industry groupings. For example, in the energy sector, while oil and gas
have always been staunchly Republican, now giving more than three-fourths
of their contributions to the Party of Lincoln, electric utilities have
tilted more Democratic. Although about two-thirds of utility money now
goes to the Republicans, utilities favored the Democrats when they
controlled Congress. In the finance sector, real estate firms and
securities/investment banks have shaded more Democratic than insurance
companies and commercial banks. The former now give about 43 percent of
their monies to the Democrats, while insurance companies and commercial
banks give only one-third to the minority party. In general, however,
industrial sectors appear to act in concert.

7. Specific sector contributions spike at certain periods, correlating
with Congressional consideration of major legislation of interest to
particular industries. Agribusiness contributions rise prior to adoption
of the periodic Farm Bill. Communications/electronic contributions nearly
doubled from 1994 to 1996, prior to adoption of the 1996
Telecommunications Act. Contributions from the finance sector skyrocketed
as the financial deregulation bill was wending its way through Congress.

8. Over the past decade, the overarching trend in corporate campaign
contributions has been rapidly upward. Corporate contributions in the 2000
elections are already about 50 percent higher than in the 1992
presidential election year -- and there's still plenty of time to go this

9. Labor is no counterbalance for the Democrats. Although unions direct
more than 90 percent of their contributions to the Democrats, corporate
contributors outspend them by more than 11 times.

10. George W. Bush is massively outdistancing Al Gore in corporate
contributions. Bush leads in every corporate sector. In the most
competitive sector, communications/electronics, Bush's contributions are
25 percent higher than Gore's. In the agribusiness, energy/natural
resources and transportation sectors, Bush is pulling in nearly 10 times
more money than Gore.

This is no way to run a democracy. When both parties' financial lifeline
are connected to corporate interests, the democratic credentials of the
political system are called into question. The system formally remains one
of one person, one vote, but is it the people or the corporations who


Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).

Focus on the Corporation columns are posted at

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