The 10 Biggest Corporate Campaign Contributors in U.S. Politics

money cash businessman corporate
money cash businessman corporate

As the midterm elections slowly draw nearer, we're taking a look at the companies whose deep pockets help keep America's political campaigns rolling along. With the help from data compiled by the nonpartisan folks at the Center for Responsive Politics, we've combined a list of the top 10 corporate campaign contributors, offering a a view of the candidates they support, the issues that concern them and their lobbying habits.

Here are 10 companies that give America the best elections that money can buy, arranged in ascending order by campaign dollars contributed between 1989 and 2010.

10. Lockheed Martin (LMT) -- $19.3 million
Military contracts are lucrative, and Lockheed Martin -- the country's top defense contractor -- has landed a passel of them. But big-ticket deals like the Joint Strike Fighter don't come cheap, and Lockheed has spent over $19 million in political races since 1989. Meanwhile, its yearly lobbying expenditure ranges between $7 million and $15 million. Thus far in 2010, it has spread $6.7 million around the halls of Congress.

Lockheed's support goes to Congressmen and Senators on both sides of the ideological divide. This year, two of its top five congressional vassals are Republicans Howard McKeon (Calif.) and Kay Granger (Texas). The other three are Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ike Skelton (Mo.) and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii).

9. Morgan Stanley(MS) -- $19.8 million

Morgan Stanley
Morgan Stanley

When it comes to campaign fund-raising, the financial industry is far and away the biggest contributor, and its continuous lobbying over the past 20 years has borne considerable fruit. Morgan Stanley, one of the U.S.'s top investment banks, was among the biggest supporters of securities industry deregulation and Social Security privatization. To that end, it has poured almost $20 million into political contests since 1989. Not surprisingly, it was also a major beneficiary of bailout money in 2008.

For most of the past decade, Morgan Stanley has steadily increased its lobbying expenditures, from just over $1 million in 2001 to almost $3 million in 2009. Republicans and Democrats both benefit from its campaign largesse: In this election cycle, the company's top contributions have been to Republican Carly Fiorina (Calif.), and its second-biggest gift has been to Democrat Kiersten Gillibrand (N.Y.). Democrats Harry Reid (Nev.) and Reshma Saujani (N.Y.) join Republican Richard Shelby (Ala.) in rounding out the company's five favorite politicos.

8. Time Warner(TWX) -- $20 million
A media colossus with fingers in dozens of pies, Time Warner's interests extend from baseball to periodicals, books to movies, and its lobbying is similarly wide-ranging. Between 1989 and 2010, the company gave some $20 million to candidates, the vast majority of whom were Democrats. Currently, the company's top five contribution recipients are Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Howard Berman (Calif.), Harry Reid (Nev), and Charles Schumer (N.Y.). All are Democrats.

Time Warner also pays a lot of money to lobbyists. Since 2003, it has averaged between $4 million and $6 million per year, with an $8 million spike in 2008. Thus far in 2010, it has paid out over $1.7 million to more than 300 lobbyists.

7. JPMorgan
(JPM) -- $20.3 million
Another top financial services firm, JPMorgan Chase has contributed over $20 million to political campaigns since 1989. Its favorites are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and its donations influence contests around the country. Currently, the company's top five beneficiaries include New York Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Scott Murphy, as well as Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk.

JPMorgan also spends heavily on lobbying. For most of the 2000s, its yearly contribution to K Street coffers has ranged between $4 million and $6 million. Thus far in 2010, it has spent just over $3 million. As with most other banks and financial services companies, Morgan's money has gone to influence banking deregulation and bankruptcy reform rules. Morgan, too, was a major beneficiary of government bailout money.

6. Microsoft(MSFT) -- $21 million


A relatively late arrival to the political contribution game, Microsoft was quick to learn the lessons of Beltway power-peddling. Following its antitrust trial in 1998, the company set up a lobbying office in D.C. and made it clear that it was open for business. Since 2000, it has poured over $2 million into each election cycle, hitting its height in 2000 and 2002, when its contributions topped $4 million. At the same time, Microsoft has also funneled a fortune into lobbying, sending more than $6 million per year to K Street since 2000 and more than $8 million per year from 2003 to 2008.

For the most part, Microsoft's money has gone to Democrat candidates from the Pacific Northwest. This year, it has poured over $110,000 each into the candidacies of Suzan DelBene and Patty Murray, and has also liberally funded Jay R. Inslee and Republican Dave Reichert, all of Washington. Over the last few years, however, Microsoft's political giving has slowly trended downward as the memories of its 2008 inquisition have faded.

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5. Altria(MO) -- $24.3 million

Formerly known as Philip Morris, Altria is the top tobacco company in the world, as well as a major shareholder (and former owner) of Kraft Foods (KFT). Much of the $24 million that Altria spent between 1989 and 2010 went toward protecting the company against devastating legislation and lawsuits. Recently, however, Altria recently shifted its position, publicly endorsing a move by the Food and Drug Administration to regulate nicotine as a drug. This has placed it in opposition to many of its fellow tobacco companies. At the same time, the roughly $2.7 million in "soft money" that Altria spent in each election cycle from 1996-2002 has dried up.

Still, Altria remains a major player in the realm of government influencing. With yearly lobbying expenditures of more than $10 million, it's keeping its D.C. friends very close. In the 2010 election cycle, Altria's donations have largely gone to Republican congressional and senatorial candidates, especially Mitch McConnell (Kent.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Eric Cantor (Va.). One Democrat, Virginia's James Webb, rounds out the top five candidates drawing Altria support.

4. United Parcel Service (UPS) -- $24.9 million
For decades, UPS and Fed Ex (FDX) (which would be No. 13 on the list) have poured money into government lobbying, each seeking to gain a strategic business advantage over the other. But their similarities may outweigh their differences: Both have fought legislation that would make it easier for the U.S. Postal Service to sell valuable overnight and second-day air services. Similarly, both strongly support free-trade agreements because these deals encourage greater overseas shipping.

UPS's political contributions -- totaling almost $25 million between 1989 and 2010 -- skew toward Republican candidates. They have also remained remarkably consistent, hovering around $2.6 million through the last four election cycles. This year, the delivery company's top five campaign contributions are fairly closely split, with just under $28,000 going to Democrats Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), while $32,250 is going to Republicans Aaron Schock (Ill.), Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.).

3. Citigroup(C) -- $27.5 million


The second-biggest campaign contributor from the financial services sector, Citigroup has given more than $27 million to a fairly even slate of Democrat and Republican candidates. Its spending spiked in the 2008 election cycle, when it contributed almost $5 million to various candidates. Today, its contributions are way down.

Citi's lobbying efforts are also declining from a high of more than $8 million in 2007. Thus far in 2010, it has spent just over $3 million. It has also spent locally. In 2010, three of its top five candidates were New York Democrats: Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Joseph Crowley.

2. Goldman Sachs(GS) -- $36.7 million
One of Wall Street's largest -- and most notorious -- banks, Goldman Sachs is also the biggest political contributor from the financial services arena. Between 1989 and 2010, it gave more than $36.7 million to political candidates and spent roughly $1 million per year on lobbying through most of the early 2000s. Starting in 2004, however, its political spending went through the roof. Its budget for the 2004 election cycle was 45% higher than four years earlier. While its contributions dropped off slightly in 2008, they still represented a 36% jump over 2000's expenditures.

Goldman's impressive lobbying effort leaped into overdrive in 2006, when its payouts to politicos more than doubled. Since then, the bank has kept up its heavy lobbying payments, which topped $3 million in 2008. At the same time, it has benefited greatly from financial deregulation -- which it strongly supports -- and government bailouts, which it accepted in 2008. In the 2009/2010 election season, most of its money has gone to Democrat candidates, including Nevada's Harry Reid and New York Representative Michael McMahon, although it has also contributed mightily to Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri.

1. AT&T(T) -- $45.6 million

AT & T
AT & T

Between 1989 and 2010, AT&T gave more than $45 million in campaign donations to both Republican and Democrat candidates. In the 2009-2010 cycle, its biggest contribution was $30,000 to the campaign of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, but three Republican congressmen -- Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Pete Olson of Texas and Roy Blunt of Missouri -- were among its top five. While impressive, however, these contributions were dwarfed by AT&T's lobbying expenses, which topped $25 million in 2006 alone.

It isn't hard to see why the phone company is willing to open its wallet for Congress. After its early-1980s antitrust breakup, Ma Bell has spent the last few decades putting itself back together again. Today, it's the largest land-based phone carrier, the largest cellular carrier and the 13th-largest company in the U.S. In 2006, as AT&T's political giving reached its apex, the company bought Bell South, a major piece of the post-breakup puzzle. Coincidence?