Many companies bet on the Democrats in the midterms and lost. They're retrenching quickly
In 2010, corporations helped fill the campaign coffers of senior House Democrats scrambling to fend off a Republican tide in November. Now that Republicans have won a House majority, some companies are pivoting and writing checks from their political action committees to the 63 new Republicans who take House seats on Jan. 5.
AT&T (T), the largest U.S. phone company, made donations Nov. 19 to more than 30 newly elected lawmakers, including $2,000 to Morgan Griffith, who defeated Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House communications subcommittee. South Carolina state Senator Mick Mulvaney, who ousted 14-term Representative John Spratt, and Vicky Hartzler, who defeated 17-term incumbent Ike Skelton in Missouri, each received $3,000 contributions from the AT&T PAC, according to the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks campaign finance. During the campaign, AT&T's PAC gave the maximum $10,000 donations to Democrats Boucher, Spratt, and Skelton.
The Federal Communications Commission has adopted net neutrality rules, which would bar AT&T, Comcast (CMCSA), and other Internet providers from interfering with Web traffic. Congressional Republicans may try to block such rules. Claudia Jones, a spokeswoman for AT&T, declined to comment. Comcast's PAC also gave $10,000 to Boucher during the campaign, and $2,500 to Griffith after his victory. Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman, declined comment.
Other companies writing post-election checks include United Parcel Service (UPS), General Electric (GE), and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. UPS is seeking legislation that would make it easier to unionize employees of rival FedEx (FDX). The UPS PAC "will never stop working to ensure that the voices and concerns of UPS employees are heard and recognized in Washington," says company spokesman Norman Black. GE is seeking government approval to sell a majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast. GE also wants congressional support for an alternate engine it's developing for the Joint Strike Fighter; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says the engine is not needed. Peter O'Toole, a GE spokesman, declined comment.
BNSF Railway, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A), may be looking to fend off tougher rate regulations. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) hinted stricter controls may be necessary after releasing a Sept. 15 report showing railroad profit margins almost doubling to 13 percent in 2009 from 7 percent in 2000. A spokesman for BNSF, Steve Forsberg, did not respond to requests for comment.
Companies trying to get their voices heard can't afford to wait until next year to make campaign donations, says Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "We're in a greatly sped-up political cycle," Kersh says. "You want to make sure you're on the radar screen early."
The bottom line: Corporate PACs are writing checks to freshmen Republicans before they take office, after at first supporting their Democratic rivals.