The world’s most powerful corporations pump tens of millions of dollars into the U.S. political system before every major election in hopes of securing the candidates who will be best for their businesses.
While financial and real-estate superpowers such as Hendricks Holding Company and Elliot Management often shell out the most in terms of campaign contributions, data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that leading agribusiness companies routinely round up money for Congressional candidates, too.
Since 1990, the agribusiness industry has given more than $736 million in campaign contributions, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.
“Like other companies and organizations involved in agriculture, we add our voice to the political process, and we’re committed to doing this constructively and transparently in a manner compliant with all applicable federal and state laws and reporting requirements,” Monsanto spokesperson Ben Eberle said in a statement.
Yet, in 2015 and 2016 so far, the financial, real-estate, legal, health, energy, communications and transportation industries all have contributed more.
The financial and real-estate sectors have spent a combined $4.1 billion since 1990.
Agribusiness as a whole ranks 10 out of 13 different industries in terms of campaign contributions.
“Agriculture is certainly not as active in money in politics as the financial sector is,” Viveca Novak, editorial communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said. “You have the hedge funds and the big commercial banks, the investment banks. These are all very, very active in the election process.”
A history of campaign finance regulation
Corporations and unions are barred from directly giving to politicians.
To get around that, corporations can organize employees into political action committees, more commonly known simply as PACs.
With these special committees, employees can give to their PAC, and then the PAC can back federal candidates, though the amount they can give is capped. If a PAC contributes more than the cap, it risks receiving a fine.
A number of court cases and laws have affected campaign finance oversight throughout the years.
The 1976 Supreme Court Case Buckley v. Valeo used the First Amendment to roughly determine money is speech.
But the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 sought to limit the role of “soft” or hard-to-track money in campaign financing, while also addressing a proliferation of advocacy ads. The act prevented corporations from paying for media spots that mentioned candidates immediately preceding elections.
Another Supreme Court case – Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 – then resulted in the creation of super PACs and a new wave of record election spending. Under this decision, groups can pay to run ads before elections as long as they do so independently and without candidate involvement.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums of money, but they cannot donate directly to political candidates. Additionally, super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with candidates.
“There are a lot of restrictions, but fewer and fewer,” Novak said. “A lot of things that were previously prohibited are falling by the wayside now.”