Every political donation of over $200 has to have certain information attached, including the employer of the person making the donation. Open Secrets takes that information from the FEC filings to determine which industries contribute the most to each party and the various candidates. The results may surprise people, especially those who buy into the notion of “grassroots” support from small donors. Listed below are the top twenty industries contributing to incumbent members of Congress, their total contributions, party split, and their top recipient:
Note the interesting revelations here. While one would expect Barack Obama to lead in some areas after his massive fundraising efforts, he winds up as the biggest beneficiary of most of the top 20 — and most of the top 50, which can be seen at the Open Secrets link above. No one will be shocked to see Obama lead in the Education or TV/Music/Films industries, and the only surprise of the latter is that Republicans get as much as 23% of their contributions. Likewise for hospitals and nursing homes and health professionals.
However, Obama also leads in what Al Franken calls “Wall Street” money — Securities/Investments and Commercial Banks. In the former, Democrats enjoy almost a 2-1 advantage over Republicans. Oil & Gas favor Republicans and John McCain, but Electrical Utilities favor Democrats and Obama — despite Obama’s demand for a 15% cut in electrical production. In fact, it’s instructive to see how few industries support McCain over Obama; most of them have to do with manufacturing, such as Oil & Gas, Automotive, Building Materials, and ag sectors like Crop Production, Agricultural Services, and Food Process/Sales. Lawyers and unions like Obama, to no one’s great shock.
Who gets the lobbyists? Despite Obama’s claim that “his party” won’t accept lobbyist money, they prefer Democrats, 56%-44%, and Hillary Clinton gets top honors.
What does this mean? One can make any number of arguments from it:
- Democrats get most of the money because there are more Democratic incumbents. This is probably at least mostly true. It’s also important to remember that this table only applies to incumbents and not challengers.
- Barack Obama is more in the pocket of these industries. Obviously, he’s more in their pockets than other candidates, almost literally. The counter argument to this is Obama’s policies appeal to these industries the most, and this is the free political market at work. The two are not mutually exclusive, and there are elements of both at work.
- John McCain doesn’t do as good at fundraising. This was true until recently, when he started doing much better — but this is for the entire 2007-8 cycle and the improvement won’t make much of a dent.
Which lesson any one person takes will have more to do with their own biases than with an objective reality. However, we should celebrate the transparency that we now have on these contributions. This is the best manner of keeping elections honest, and it’s incumbent on us to use the tools provided to us by the FEC and Open Secrets.