Corporations spend billions on lobbying and campaign contributions, get trillions in business

America’s most politically active companies are getting a great return on their investment in lobbying the federal government and giving to political candidates.

Between 2007 and 2012, 200 companies spent $5.8 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions and received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support, according to a year-long analysis by The Sunlight Foundation.

That figure, more than the $4.3 trillion the federal government paid the nation’s 50 million Social Security recipients over the same period, is the result of an unprecedented effort to quantify the less-examined side of the campaign finance equation: Do political donors get something in return for what they give?

The answer from The Sunlight Foundation is a resounding yes. They examined 14 million records and found that, on average, for every dollar a company spent influencing politics, it received $760 from the government.

These 200 companies, which are 1 percent of all clients that pay to lobby government, accounted for 26 percent of all lobbying spending.

The Fixed Fortune 200 come from a wide range of industries. There are a host of familiar names among them, like Ford Motor Company, McDonald’s and Bank of America, as well as some less famous, like MacAndrews & Forbes, the Carlyle Group and Cerberus Capital Management.

The Sunlight Foundation obtained their campaign contribution and lobbying data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan groups that tracks money in politics.

The financial, insurance and real estate industries, as categorized by the Center for Responsive Politics, accounted for 48 of the Fixed Fortune 200, more than any other industry. The other top industries were 28 communications and electronics companies, 21 healthcare companies and 13 in defense and aerospace.

However, these 200 companies may not be taking advantage of the ability to make unlimited contributions to super PACs. The Sunlight Foundation was able to find that these 200 companies only gave $3 million to super PACs.

This does not count contributions to politically active 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations because they do not have to disclose their donors.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.