Guess Who’s the Party of Big Business


Tom Van Dyke

Tom Van Dyke, businessman, musician, bon vivant and game-show champ (The Joker's Wild, and Win Ben Stein's Money), knows lots of stuff, although not quite everything yet. A past inactive to The American Spectator Online, the late great Reform Club blog, and currently on religion and the American Founding at American Creation, TVD continues to write on matters of both great and small importance from his ranch type style tract house high on a hill above Los Angeles.

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55 Responses

  1. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Thanks for the link Tom.Report

  2. I’m not sure I understand what I’m looking at here (which is my fault; I’m bad at reading graphs). It looks like money went to Ds but then in 2010 went to Rs.Report

  3. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


    Fun to tweak.  So far, what I’m most curious about is this

    2006 $174,357,823 $23,252,857 $47,987,559 $1,528,321 $101,589,086 13.34% 27.52%

    What happened in 2006 on the ballot measures list such that all the Energy companies blew all their money on ballot measures instead of politicians?  The only other years that came close to 2006 ($101,589,086) were 2008 and 2010, in the 70s and 60s.  Every other year it’s down to $10M or less.Report

  4. Avatar DarrenG says:

    “Industry Influence” as defined by that site isn’t exactly what most people think of as Big Business, since it also includes labor, public financing, lobbying/activist organizations, and self-financing.


    Filtering to actual private sector contributions shows a story that most would find more intuitive:


    • Avatar Katherine says:

      NIce catch (I’d expect TVD to show exactly the level of nuance which he has).  Looking at it individually, Labour (obviously) gives more to Democrats, while the “big business” groups give either slightly more or a lot more to Republicans.

      Agriculture gives at least twice as much to Republicans as to Democrats (likely influenced by the fact that Republicans are more likely to have rural ridings).  Defence also (unsurprisingly) gives substantially more to Republicans, with the major exception of 2009 (perhaps they were trying to buy Obama?  Good investment).  Energy & Natural Resources give substantially more to Republicans as well, a fact that has become even more accentuated in recent years when you look at the oil & gas industry specifically.  Finance, Insurance & Real Estate, a big topic these days, give moderately more to Republicans.  “General Business”?  More to Republicans.  The Health sector is pretty even in its lobbying, but sends slightly more to – guess what? – Republicans.  The Transportation sector also generally gives more to Republicans.

      Now if you want to go after the Democrats for something fact-based, feel free, because they get substantially more from Lawyers and Lobbyists than the Republicans do.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Add in lawyers [law is also a big business], and the uncategorized and it’s a push.

        The numbers are still comparable even if you come up with more $ to the Republicans.  By contrast it’s more like 80-20 with labor.  But I wouldn’t want to disturb anyone’s narrative.  Republicans are the Party of Big Business is too sweet a bumper sticker to give up, I understand.Report

        • Avatar Katherine says:

          Add in the lawyers it’s closer, though still with more going the the Republicans each election year, and substantially more in 2004, 2006, and 2010.  I’d agree with the earlier posters who have noted that business has a lot of influence in both parties, but it’s clear from the data that they prefer the Republicans.

          I don’t see a compelling reason to include the uncategorized (or more specifically, the “uncoded” and “unitemized” categories), given that we can’t know how much of a role business plays in those ones, and that they include things like “generic occupation” and “homemakers/non-income earners” – the latter are clearly not a business.  But even when you add them in, the Republicans get more.

          And your original post missed a lot of significant nuances – if you know who is supporting a party, you have some idea of 1) what they want and 2) who’s giving them what they want.  In the case of most business groups, the answer to question 2 is the Republicans.

          Given all that, it seems factually supported to call them the party of big business.  I could certainly call the “the party of the finance, real estate, defense, oils & gas, mining, health, and construction industries, and of most other businesses” instead, but that’s getting a bit unwieldy.

          If you, in return, want to call Democrats the party of unions and lawyers (it’s not like nobody does that already), feel free.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’ve never worked out why anyone would think either the Dems or Repubs were particularly pro- or anti-business,    The lobbyists don’t care which party is in power at present.   They only care about who’s in power.

    And why would it ever be otherwise?Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      The lobbyists don’t care which party is in power at present.   They only care about who’s in power.

      I have to go with Blaise on this one.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        … and what’s more, there are entire tiers of levels of access via the people who once held power to the people who do hold power.  It’s pay to play in that business.   I should tell y’all a lobbyist story.   Forgive me if I’ve told it before.

        True story.

        So I’m in this bar in Bethesda.  Been working there for a few weeks, got to know two lobbyists who drank there.   They worked for different firms and some bill was up before Congress, an agriculture bill iirc.   Their lobbying firms were on opposite sides of this bill.

        Clinton was president.   They both had a visit to the Oval Office one day, back to back.   The Oval Office runs on 15 minute shifts, or did back then.   There’s a little staging area from which people enter and leave the Oval Office.   B sees A coming out of the Oval Office, B’s all stoked.   A gets his 15 minutes with Clinton and A arrives first at the bar.  A tells me Clinton was on his side of the bill.

        B arrives.   He says Clinton’s on his side of the bill.   A looks at him and says “That’s not what Clinton told me.”    B and A look at each other and realize Clinton would tell anyone listening anything they wanted to hear.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      Thinking about it more, this is a most important point.  Both lobbyists and politicians are content to let us squabble over whose getting more money, when they know there are plenty of facts and figures to keep the tug o’ war going on indefinitely, all while the interest-peddling game continues.

      To my mind, the Tea Party-fueled reforms in Wisconsin present one example where democracy won out over the big business of public sector labor unions.  Even lefty Larry Lessig extols the Tea Party as a source of political power based in the people rather than special interests.  Most of his brethren on the left, however, despise the Tea Party generally, and the Wisconsin reforms specifically.  Why?  The only explanation is that those critics are not genuinely in favor of any political reforms–whether of the people or of special interests–if they are not their kind of reforms.  These critics of the Tea Party and of the Wisconsin reforms, then, essentially favor the old partisan tug o’ war, spy vs. spy, so long as that means they don’t lose any ground.

      Some folks emphasize that the left has short time horizons compared to the right.  But I think the left really has the upper hand in the long game.  Once so many things are changed, there’s no truly “conservative” approach to anything.  I’m reading Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which she describes the radical reforms in the school system beginning in the 60s through the 80s, and onward.  When it was finally discovered that SAT scores had declined precipitously, you tell me how you begin to troubleshoot that problem.  I used to work as a PC and network technician, and the first thing you do is ask what was the last thing that changed.  When everything has changed, from the way schools are paid for, to the curricula, from phonics to whole-word method, to students choosing what or whether they’ll learn, to instructors teaching outside their specialities, not to mention the efforts to end segregation, there wasn’t anything that hadn’t been changed.  So instead of examining what worked before, we’re left to plod ahead on ever more progressive agendas.  Progressivism begets more progressivism.

      Point being, as long as we’re looking at motives, that’s a strong one in my book for the left to protect the status quo with respect to special interests.  The undercurrents set in motion by the liberal triumphs of the 20th century will continue taking us left.  The status quo serves that objective.  Left is now right.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Um, we Lefties have grown to respect the Tea Party:  they stood up against renewal of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act and won.

        The Wisconsin reforms, speaking as someone who lives here now, can be deconstructed in strategic, essentially military terms.   The teachers’ unions in Wisconsin didn’t have the necessary power to overcome Walker’s reforms.   Other unions, the policemen and firefighters, weren’t targeted:  they have a much better union.   Even though the police unions publicly sided with the teachers, Walker knew better than to attack police and firefighters.

        As for educational policy, it’s become a political football.  Every year things change.   All the politicians with no teaching experience all swan around and have Simple Solutions to Tough Problems and it’s always the teachers’ fault.   If we wanted school reform, we’d treat it like the national security issue it ought to be:   how are we going to arm a soldier with a million dollar weapons system if he can’t read the manual?

        Diane Ravich observes we ought to give teachers more respect.   While idiot politicians make hay attacking public schools and damning teachers’ unions for failure, we will get nowhere.   There is a measure of student progress, it’s called the Report Card, goddamnit.    Want to go after unions?   Think a closed union is bad?   Try taking on the policemen’s union and they will cut your a new one.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          My understanding is that the WI reforms were fiscal and, though they dealt with teachers’ unions and collective bargaining, they were not ed reforms, per se.  Stipulated on ed policy being a political football, and my analogy may have been unclear, but the main point here is the way reforms get done.  In WI, reforms were done the way we should all be able to respect, even if we disagree with the reforms themselves.  And the attacks on them, coming from special interests, ought likewise to be regarded as loathesome, regardless of their objectives.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Yes, some of us believe people don’t think people deserve their collective bargaining rights being taken away from them just because of the results of one election. Now, I realize that unions are the Greatest Monster’s in Human History and all, but c’mon.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:


        Civil war is now a good idea?? Yeah, I’d say that stealing the public’s energy wasn’t worth the charade.Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        I am not familiar with any political reforms that have occurred in Wisconsin as a result of the 2010 election other than the state government passing laws saying local governments don’t have to negotiate employment terms with their employees if they’re members of particular unions that the majority party dislikes.

        If we’re calling that ‘reform’ now I can see why you think liberals might be opposed to any ‘reforms’.Report

  6. Avatar BSK says:

    I was surprised more money was spent in mid-year election years than presidential election years.  Any thoughts as to why?  You still have the same number of seats up (all of the house; 1/3 of the senate) PLUS the Presidency.  Que?Report

    • Avatar DarrenG says:

      This also includes all spending on state-level races, and one contentious ballot initiative or gubernatorial race in California can skew things quite a bit (especially if Meg Whitman is involved).Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        Color me ignorant, but what state-level races happen during mid-terms that don’t happen in Presidential elections?

        And it seems to be a consistent phenomenon, hard to attribute to any singular race or initiative (’02 more than ’04; 06 more than ’08; ’10 the highest on record…).Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Though some states do statewide elections in presidential election years, most states do it in mid-terms. And statewide elections can include a lot of races (Governor, Lt. Governor sometimes separately elected, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, Education Commissioner, Land Commissioner, etc.)


          • Avatar BSK says:

            Thanks, Will.  I’m still surprised that that would take it over the Presidential election, but there is probably a lot more I’m ignorant of contributing to my befuddlement.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              To be honest, it surprises me, too. Though in a way it warms my federalist heart.

              I would need to do some research to back this assertion up, but I suspect that referenda and the like are a lot more common in mid-term and off-years. It’s a better time for interest groups to get something through. You can fire your people up against a lower turnout.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            To add on to Will’s comment, a lot of states–particularly during the progressive era–purposely moved lots of state and local elections to non-presidential years specifically to avoid having them influenced by presidential election politics.  Not a bad goal, but it also results in lower turnouts.Report

        • Avatar DarrenG says:

          I mentioned one big one: Governor of California. New York is on the same gubernatorial election schedule, too, as are a number of other states.

          The 2010 California governor’s race alone saw over $250MM in spending. California ballot measures were nearly another $250MM that year.Report

  7. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Anybody ever hear of Act Blue?  The #1 political contributor in America, over AT&T even.

    99% to Democrats, as you can tell by the name.  I confess I’d never heard of it.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Anybody heard of a guy named Richard Cordray?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Richard Cordray?  Big Democrat donor, according to

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I’m stunned a Democratic office-holder gave to Democrat’s. STUNNED!

        Next thing you know, you’ll tell me that John Ashcroft might have given some cash to some Republican’s as well.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Heh heh. Relax, Jesse, just a little spritz.  Blaise was trying to stir up some action on President Obama’s recess appointment of him.

          But don’t worry.  Ezra Klein thinks it’s fine.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            I think it’s fine as well. A session where nothing gets done isn’t a session. Thus, the Senate is still in recess.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              It’s hard to say whether it’s constitutionally fine or not, but I think the question will come to naught because ultimately it would require the judicial branch to step in and decide whether Congress was actually in session or not, and that they would undoubtedly decline to do.

              I applaud Obama for making the appointment and daring the Republicans to try to do something about it.  Going into his re-election bid he needs to show a lot more cojones than he has so far, just to make himself actually appear presidential and (in Bill Clinton’s words) “relevant.”

              The worriers are afraid it will cause the Republicans in Congress to take a harder line on any other appointments, but to believe that requires believing that they weren’t going to do that anyway, which is a pretty groundless belief, I think.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Your next post is, I’m sure, going to say “Who is the President who makes the most recess appointments.” You’ll imply it’s Obama, despite the fact that Obama’s recess appointments are far, far outnumbered by every recent president.Report

    • Avatar DarrenG says:

      They’re an aggregator of individual donations to Democratic candidates and causes. They’re the main channel for netroots contributions:

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Act Blue, as far as I know, is a clearinghouse for small citizen donors. It isn’t a corporate donor in the conventional sense of the word.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Got it, Mr. Stillwater.  Was curious, is all.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Act Blue is a clearinghouse, but it’s a bit more than just individual donors. Individuals and groups can use it to get and distribute donations to any Democratic candidate.

        Also, to the original post: nope, it turns out that if you actually look at the data, big business gives a lot more to who you’d think they would: Republicans. At least this is typical of the author, though.Report

  8. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    “No, you’re wrong.”

    Actually, no – I think I may be right.  I would have guessed pretty evenly distributed, with the edge going to whoever was going to be the winner in any particular year.  Which this graph soft of bears out.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Yeah, that’s about it, Tod.  Many people wouldn’t know that, which was the only reason for tossing the OP up on “Off the Cuff.”.  They prefer their politics at the bumper sticker level, as we see.

      The other thing is—I didn’t do the history on it—is that it may have been more true in the past, but we have to update our bumpers these days.  With gov’t and business so much more intertwined via regulation, it’s suicide not to have a foot in both camps.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        “The other thing is—I didn’t do the history on it—is that it may have been more true in the past, ”

        This may be true, of all I know.  But I kind of doubt it; money always follows power, and for all those years where congress was dominated by Dems it sees unlikely they weren’t getting their palms greased.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      they basically pick winners and losers, and the scaifes sit out when their side isn’t gonna win.Report

  9. Avatar BSK says:

    I realize this was an “off-the-cuff” post, but I think it makes a number of assumptions that undermine the point…

    First off, how are we defining ‘big business’?  As many pointed out, including “labour” as “business” doesn’t really jibe with what we mean when we say the latter.

    Second, I think when most peolpe say a party or candidate is for “big business”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are receiving donations, but they are working in “big business’s” best interests.  Perhaps those are one in the same, but I don’t think we can necessarily assume they are.Report