If you're the CEO of a large, transnational corporation, life has never been better.
According to a new study by the Sunlight Foundation, between 2007-2012, the nation's 200 most politically active corporations received $760 for every $1 they donated to influence politics. Those corporations have spent a combined $5.8 billion on campaign contributions and federal lobbying expenditures and have received $4.4 trillion in return. If the game is reaping rocket-high profits, Washington is the perfect playing field.
By investing so heavily in politics, the 200 corporations, or the Fixed Fortune 200, have been able to inject themselves into government decisions, benefitting their companies at unprecedented levels. Those companies have been successful in squeezing out federal loans, expanding particular programs, and getting contracts from the officials they helped get elected. It's a win-win for the corporations and their politicians.
The Fixed Fortune 200 are a diverse group, ranging from corporations in different sectors including finance, insurance, real estate, defense, agribusiness, energy and transportation, among others. In what seems to be a quid pro quo arrangement, the government and the corporations mutually benefit from these astronomical returns (more money in the pockets of CEOs means more money for politicians during the election season).
Although the Fixed Fortune 200 account for 1 percent only of all lobbying clients, the 200 corporations are responsible for about 26 percent of the total amount spent on lobbying expenditures. This chunk of change ($5.2 billion) has gone toward establishing relationships and influencing the legislatures that write the laws that could either favor or oppose their interests.
For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield, a politically active corporation ranking 18th on the list of 200, has its own provision in a tax code, saving the company as much as $1 billion every year. New York Life and Pacific Mutual, ranking 20th and 189th respectively, are granted tax breaks that save insurance companies an estimated $30 billion a year, with more than $3 billion going back to the companies. But it's not only tax loopholes that are saving the Fixed Fortune large sums of capital; federal contracts and handouts pervade the system, as well.
Of the $3 trillion the federal government issued in contracts between 2007-2012, the Fixed Fortune 200 earned $1 trillion. Under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Treasury gave 16 of the Fixed Fortune $298 million. Additionally, the Federal Reserve gave 29 corporations $2.8 trillion. Evidently, higher participation rates among corporations in politics result in a greater return on their investments.
And Congress keeps finding more ways to make it easier for them to invest.
The recent spending bill, affectionately referred to as Cromnibus (for combining a long-term omnibus spending bill with a short-term continuing resolution) is a perfect example of the Congressional will to increase the flow of money in politics. Cromnibus contains a provision that will drastically expand the amount of money extremely wealthy donors can contribute to the national parties, virtually dissolving the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. These donors will now be able to give 10 times the amount they were previously allowed to give. As if big money in politics had not been a problem before.
This is great news for you CEOs out there, not just for national politics, but also for state and local politics. But for local business owners and citizens who care about the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit), this presents a crisis for our democracy.
On average, per election cycle, the 200 corporations have spent a considerable amount of money influencing the elections of 144 sitting members of Congress. And the political contributions to those Congressmen are hitting home, literally. Of the 200 companies, 174 were granted subsidies from state and local governments.
Big money is taking over American democracy. And it's only getting worse. It's incentivizing politicians to write legislation in favor of their donors, not their voters. That's not democracy: that's corruption.
But there's hope. There is a growing grassroots movement across the country. Almost 5 million people have signed a petition calling for a Constitutional amendment to end the big money dominance of our elections. Sixteen states, more than 600 cities and towns and more than 200 members of Congress have joined this call for a 28th Amendment. Almost every generation has amended the Constitution to protect and expand our democracy. This is a battle our generation must wage.