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- Since the Citizens United decision, companies have been able to donate millions of unregulated dollars to political causes as a form of protected free speech.
- Behind many of the largest corporate contributions are influential CEOs on the left and the right, such as Sheldon Adelson and Tom Steyer, who hope that in exchange Congress will work to push their political agendas.
- Here are 10 companies that are influencing politics by donating huge amounts of money to political groups in 2018.
However, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision declared that spending money on political causes qualified as free speech protected by the First Amendment. The decision opened the door for unlimited political expenditures by corporations and unions (provided that they weren’t giving money to campaigns directly).
Campaign contributions directly to political candidates are limited for individuals and companies alike. But since 2010, companies can pour millions of unregulated and uncapped “soft money” into independent Super Political Action Committees (PACs) to influence the outcomes of federal elections without contributing to an individual candidate.
Unlike regular PACs, which can only accept contributions of up to $5,000 from individuals and nothing from unions and corporations, Super PACs can accept “dark money” from donors that shield their identities through shell corporations and political nonprofits who don’t have to reveal their donors.
Open Secrets has compiled a list of the largest organizational political contributors to Democratic and Republican or liberal and conservative outside groups. (We’ve excluded unions and nonprofits, which are also on the list.) The totals include political donations by employees of the companies, their PACs, and their treasuries.
Here are the top 10 corporate contributors so far in the 2018 election cycle.
Las Vegas Sands
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When you combine the money contributed by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casino (almost $28 million) and the nonprofit Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment and Research ($27 million) run by his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, their $55.7 million in campaign contributions for the 2018 cycle alone makes the Adelson family one of the biggest political donors.
According to Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson has contributed over $200 million to conservative candidates and causes in recent years.
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The Uline Corporation, run by Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, sells office supplies through a thick catalog, the print version of which includes conservative political commentary from Elizabeth Uihlein, according to Politico.
Uline has donated $31.7 million so far in 2018, more than it spent for the 2016 cycle, according to Open Secrets. The vast majority of that money went to Republicans. Their soft money donations have soared since the Citizens United decision in 2010.
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Fahr LLC is a privately owned company that manages the wealth of Tom Steyer, former hedge fund manager and current political activist. According to Open Secrets, Fahr LLC has donated $29.4 million to the current election cycle so far, and that may be just the beginning, since the corporation’s 2016 contributions topped $90 million.
Steyer is the driving force behind Need to Impeach, an organization and super PAC trying to get Trump out of office. CNN reported that he has pledged to spend at least $30 million on Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in 2018, as well as $40 million toward impeachment.
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Paloma Partners is an investment company founded by S. Donald Sussman, who has quietly contributed millions to Democrats and the PACs that support them. Open Secrets reports that Paloma Partners has donated more than $23 million so far in 2018. In 2016, the contribution was close to $42 million.
Soros Fund Management
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With $14 million in political donations so far in 2018 and $28.7 million in the 2016 election year, private hedge fund Soros Fund Management isn’t the biggest political donor on the left, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was.
Outspoken George Soros has become a boogeyman to many on the right – he is the target of several conspiracy theories. For example, despite persistent rumors, Snopes confirms that Soros did not pay people to attend the 2018 March for Our Lives.
James Simons, whom Forbes listed as the second highest-earning hedge fund manager in 2018, is president of the private hedge fund company Euclidean Capital. Euclidean Capital has given $9.5 million in campaign contributions to Democratic causes so far in 2018.
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Renaissance Technologies, also founded by James Simons (he is still involved with the company, though he has retired), contributed $9.5 million in 2018, split between both political parties. In 2016, the hedge fund donated $59 million, giving slightly more to Democrats than Republicans.
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They have also contributed to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promoted laws limiting lawsuits from people with terminal illness as a result of asbestos. Koch Industries own Georgia Pacific, which has been subject to these lawsuits.
Through nonprofit Americans for Prosperity (which also donates millions to further Republican causes), the Koch brothers have organized to defeat transit projects in several cities, according to the New York Times. (Government-funded transit contradicts the brothers’ free-market, small-government views, and they also profit from people using cars.)
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Investment company Blackstone Group has contributed almost $7.4 million in the 2018 election cycle and gave almost $9.5 million in 2016. The company’s donors gave more to Democrats in 2016, but favor Republicans so far this year.