Bribe

Corporations United

Over the Decade Since Citizens United, Corporations Spent Over $500 Million to Influence Elections – But Dark Money Means It’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Ten years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its infamous ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC). The decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy and backed by the court’s conservative majority, overturned a century of law to allow unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.

So how much money have for-profit corporations spent to influence elections since Jan. 21, 2010?

Because of rise of “dark money” groups that spend millions to influence elections but under current law are not required to disclose their donors, it’s impossible to say for sure.

But an analysis of FEC data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) and other sources provides the following insights.

Key Findings

  • Over 2,200 corporations have reported a total of $313 million in donations to over 500 super PACs for the purpose of influencing elections.
  • Additionally, 30 corporate trade groups, which do not disclose their donors, have spent $226 million for the purpose of influencing elections.
  • This means there has been at least $539 million in corporate political spending to influence elections that we know of – and that this is almost certainly an undercount.

Additional Findings

  • The top 20 corporate donors account for $118 million – more than a third – of corporate donations reported to the FEC, and the entities donated exclusively to super PACs that back Republicans.
  • Only four of these top corporations are publicly traded. Three are energy corporations – Chevron, NextEra Energy and Pinnacle West Capital – and the fourth is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco.
  • All 20 of the reported corporate donors have executives, chairpersons, or other top figures who have who also have donated generously to political campaigns – collectively, more than $127 million, mostly to support Republicans.
  • At least half of the 16 private corporations among these top donors are run by a billionaires.
  • The surge in corporate spending primarily benefited a handful of super PACs dedicated to electing Republican candidates. The top 20 recipients received $230 million, or 74% of the total disclosed corporate donations.
  • The 18 top super PACs that exclusively or almost exclusively supported Republican candidates account for 93% of the top spenders and 69% of all disclosed corporate election spending.
  • Among the nondisclosing corporate trade groups, the US Chamber of Commerce alone accounts for $143 million – 64% of the total.

Section 1: Disclosed Money

Thanks to Citizens United, corporations can now channel as much money as they want into dark money groups that influence elections – over $1 billion and counting – so it’s not possible to know exactly how much corporate election spending is occurring.

Nevertheless, FEC data from the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) reveals that over 2,200 corporations have reported a total of $310 million in donations to over 500 political entities for the purpose of influencing elections.

The top 20 corporate donors account for $118 million – more than a third – of the corporate donations reported to the FEC. For the purposes of analyzing these 20 corporate donors, where multiple corporations are subsidiaries of a parent corporation, or when multiple corporations are controlled by the same individuals, they are treated as a single entity.

Out of the top 20 reporting corporate donors, only four are publicly traded, of which three are energy corporations – Chevron, NextEra Energy and Pinnacle West Capital – and the fourth is RAI Services Co., a part of tobacco company Reynolds American Inc (which is itself a subsidiary of the multinational British American Tobacco). Fossil fuel corporations make up the greatest proportion of the top donors, representing seven of the total, followed by financial and real estate corporations, of which there are six. Five of the corporations are based in Texas and four are based in Florida (see Table 1).

Table 1: Top 20 Corporate political spenders disclosed to FEC, 2010-2020

CorporationSectorPublic/PrivateHeadquarters StateAmount
CV Starr & Co, Starr International Usa, Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., Starr Insurance HoldingsfinanceprivateNew York$16,125,000
Specialty Group Inc. and Kingston Pike Development LLCn/aprivateTennessee$12,075,000
Mountaire CorpagricultureprivateArkansas$8,575,000
Chevron Corpoil & gaspublicCalifornia$8,175,000
Access Industriesmisc / conglomerateprivateNew York$,811,0000
TRT Holdingsmisc / conglomerateprivateTexas$7,586,880
Koch Industriesoil & gas / conglomerateprivateKansas$5,960,000
Hillwood Developmentreal estateprivateTexas$5,310,000
Contran CorpfinanceprivateTexas$5,025,000
Weaver PopcornfoodprivateIndiana$4,974,350
Crow Holdingsreal estateprivateTexas$4,970,000
Rooney HoldingsfinanceprivateFlorida$4,250,000
Oxbow Carbon & Mineralsoil & gasprivateFlorida$4,250,000
Petrodome Energyoil & gasprivateTexas$4,000,000
Besilu Stables agricultureprivateFlorida$3,500,000
NextEra Energyenergy utilitypublicFlorida$3,475,000
Stephens IncfinanceprivateArkansas$3,400,000
Murray EnergycoalprivateOhio$2,944,000
RAI Services CotobaccopublicNorth Carolina$2,797,500
Pinnacle West Capitalenergy utilitypublicArizona$2,310,000
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

These top corporate donors gave exclusively to super PACs that back Republicans. (See Table 2.)

Table 2: Republican beneficiaries of donations from the top 20 corporate political spenders disclosed to FEC, 2010-2020

CorporationAmountRecipients
CV Starr & Co, Starr International Usa, Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., Starr Insurance Holdings$16,125,000 $10 million to Right to Rise USA (pro-Jeb Bush super PAC) and $2.5 million to Conservative Solutions (pro-Marco Rubio super PAC), plus several Republican-supporting super PACs.
Specialty Group Inc. and Kingston Pike Development LLC$12,075,000 Specialty Group contributed $10,575,000 and Kingston Pike Development contributed $1.5 million to Freedomworks during the 2012 elections -- 52% of what the PAC received through November 2012 during the election cycle.
Mountaire Corp$8,575,000 $7 million to Freedom Partners Action Fund plus contributions to American Crossroads and other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Chevron Corp$8,175,000 $4.4 million to the Senate Leadership Fund and $3.7 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, both of which help elect Republicans, plus smaller contributions to other Republican-backing super PACs.
Access Industries$8,110,000 Spending primarily split between Conservative Solutions (a pro-Marco Rubio super PAC), the Senate Leadership Fund and Unintimidated PAC (a pro-Scott Walker super PAC).
TRT Holdings$7,586,880 $5.9 million to American Crossroads, including most of the organization’s funding during the 2012 election cycle, plus several other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Koch Industries$5,960,000 $3 million to Americans for Prosperity Action plus several Republican-supporting super PACs.
Hillwood Development$5,310,000 More than $1 million each to the Congressional Leadership Fund, Senate Leadership Fund and American Crossroads, plus several other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Contran Corp$5,025,000 $4 million to American Crossroads plus other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Weaver Popcorn$4,974,350 $4.7 million to American Crossroads during the Obama administration.
Crow Holdings$4,970,000 $2.5 million to American Crossroads plus several other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Rooney Holdings$4,250,000 $2.3 million to Right to Rise (pro-Jeb Bush super PAC), $750,000 to American Crossroads, plus contributions to other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Oxbow Carbon & Minerals$4,250,000 $3.75 million to Restore Our Future (pro-Mitt Romney PAC) and other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Petrodome Energy$4,000,000 Exclusively to the Senate Leadership Fund in 2015 and 2016.
Besilu Stables$3,500,000 Exclusively to Conservative Solutions (pro-Marco Rubio super PAC).
NextEra Energy$3,475,000 $1.75 million to Senate Leadership Fund, $1 million to Right to Rise (pro-Jeb Bush PAC), plus other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Stephens Inc$3,400,000 $2.7 million to American Crossroads plus contributions to other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Murray Energy$2,944,000 $1 million to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action plus contributions to several other Republican-supporting super PACs.
RAI Services Co$2,797,500 $1.1 million to Grow NC Strong, a single-candidate super PAC for Sen. Richard Burr, plus contributions to super PACs supporting Republican senate and congressional candidates.
Pinnacle West Capital$2,310,000 $2.2 million to Arizona Grassroots Action, a single-candidate super PAC supporting Sen. John McCain, plus contributions to other Republican-supporting super PACs.
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

All 20 of the top corporations spending to influence elections have executives, chairpersons, or other top figures who have who have donated generously to political campaigns – collectively, more than $127 million. At least half of the 16 private corporations of these corporations are run by a billionaire or billionaire family (see Table 3).

In every instance, the corporations’ political spending mirrored the political spending of the individual executives, board chairs, owners and/or funders that control them. One difference between the corporate donations and the individuals’ donations is that a few of the executives have occasionally supported Democratic candidates. Another is the scale of the donations – in 75% of the top 20, the corporate spending was significantly larger than the spending by the corporations’ top executives or owner. The top executives or owner whose historic spending surpasses that of the corporations they control are Mountaire Corp.’s Ronald Cameron (over $25 million), TRT Holdings’ Robert Rowling ($9.5 million), Koch Industries’ Charles and David Koch ($20 million combined), Stephens Inc.’s Warren Stephens ($26 million) and Crow Holdings’ Harlan Crow ($6.8 million).

Charles Koch and his late brother David may be the most politically ambitious and notorious of the billionaire executives that spent millions to influence elections while overseeing a corporation that also spends millions to influence elections. The Kochs, however, are not alone.

Table 3: Political spending by corporate executives from the top 20 corporate political spenders disclosed to FEC, 2010-2020

CorporationTop FiguresNotes on Top FiguresIndividual Spending by Top Figures
CV Starr & Co, Starr International Usa, Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., Starr Insurance HoldingsMaurice "Hank" GreenbergBillionaire executive. Greenberg admitted culpability in NY AG AIG accounting fraud case and paid a $9 million settlement. Sued federal government over AIG bailout and sought $40 billion in damages and lost.Since 1989, Greenberg personally contributed $447,300 to political campaigns, most generously to Republicans.
Specialty Group Inc. and Kingston Pike Development LLCWilliam S. Rose, Jr. and Richard J. StephensonBoth corporations were created in September 2012, shortly before the Freedomworks contributions were made. The true source of the funds was reportedly Stephenson, founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Freedomworks board member.FEC records show $6,700 in contributions from William S. Rose in Knoxville, Tenn. Stephenson made $142,000 in contributions since 2002. Both exclusively supported Republicans.
Mountaire CorpRonald CameronGave $2 million to Trump-backing PAC. Being sued over pollution. Net worth unknown.Since 2010, Cameron has personally made more than $25 million in contributions to political campaigns.
Chevron CorpJohn Watson (2010-2017), Mike Wirth (2018-)Watson is the former CEO, Wirth is the current CEO.Watson made more than $489,000 in contributions to political campaigns since 2002, mostly to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and almost entirely to Republicans. Wirth made $158,000 in contributions since 2006, most generously to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to which he gave $67,000 in 2018 and 2019.
Access IndustriesLeonard BlavatnikUkrainian-born oligarch, now US citizen. Billionaire. Since 2010, Blavatnik has personally made more than $2 million in contributions to political campaigns.
TRT HoldingsRobert RowlingExecutive, has $5.5 billion net worth.Since 1988, Rowling made more than $9.5 million in contributions to political campaigns, including $6 million to American Crossroads during the Obama administration.
Koch IndustriesCharles Koch and David Koch (deceased)Held by Charles Koch, the corporation’s chairman and CEO, who has an estimated net worth of $42.7 billion.Charles and David Koch have made a combined $20 million in contributions to political campaigns since 1999, the vast majority being the $16 million they gave to the 501(c)(6) Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce between 2014 and 2017.
Hillwood DevelopmentH. Ross Perot, Jr.Formed in 1988 by its chairman, H. Ross Perot Jr., a son of the billionaire and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, who died in 2019. Since 1988, Ross Perot Jr. and his wife have made $1.6 million in contributions to political campaigns.
Contran CorpHarold SimmonsSimmons, a billionaire, died in December 2012. Contran gave no further contributions after March 2013.Since 1988, Simmons made more than $29 million in contributions to political campaigns, including $20.5 million to American Crossroads during the 2012 election and $2 million to Swift Boat Vets for Truth during the 2004 election.
Weaver PopcornMichael WeaverThe privately held popcorn company supplies as much as 1/3 of the world's popcorn and is held by its founding family. Michael Weaver is its president.Since 1999, Weaver made more than $176,000 in political contributions, entirely in support of Republicans and mostly in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
Crow HoldingsHarlan CrowNow-retired executive is son of Trammel Crow, once "the country's largest landlord."Since 1999, Crow and his wife have contributed more than $6.8 million in contributions to political campaigns, almost entirely in support of Republicans and more than $2 million since Trump became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.
Rooney HoldingsL Francis Rooney IIINow-retired executive is since 2016 a U.S. Representative for Florida's 19th District, one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth of over $22 million. Since 1999, Rooney has made nearly $700,000 in contributions to political campaigns, exclusively in support of Republicans.
Oxbow Carbon & MineralsBill KochBillionaire owner/exec, brother to Charles and the late David Koch. Koch has made more than $1.2 million in contributions to political campaigns supporting both Republicans and Democrats since 1999.
Petrodome EnergyW. Ed Bosarge Jr.Acquired in 2018 by Viking Energy from Black Rhino LP, a privately held oil & gas company. Bosarge is owner of Houston's most expensive mansion. Borsarge has made nearly $2 million in contributions to political campaigns, about half of which were given to American Crossroads in 2012.
Besilu StablesBenjamin Leon JrExclusively pro-Rubio spending during the 2016 Republican primary.Leon made more than $1 million in contributions to political campaigns supporting both Republicans, such as President Trump, and Democrats, such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
NextEra EnergyJames L. RoboRobo has been president and CEO of NextEra since 2012.Since 1999, Robo has made more than $325,000 in contributions to political campaigns supporting both Republicans and Democrats.
Stephens IncWarren StephensBillionaire executive. Stephens spent personally against Trump during the Republican primary.Stephens has made nearly $26 million in contributions to political campaigns since 1999, mostly supporting Republicans, including $3 million to American Crossroads, $2.5 million to the "Never Trump" Our Principles PAC during the 2016 Republican primaries, and, in 2018, $500,000 to the Trump-backing America First PAC.
Murray EnergyRobert MurrayOnce the owner of the largest privately held coal company, the corporation is now bankrupt despite Murray’s effort to save coal business through deregulatory proposals pushed to Trump administration. Murray has made more than $1.3 million in contributions to political campaigns since 2001, nearly half of which were made during the 2016 election cycle or later, including more than $300,000 supporting Trump.
RAI Services CoSusan Cameron (2014-2018) Ricardo Oberlander (2018-)Cameron is the former CEO of Reynolds American, Oberlander is its current CEO.Cameron has made more than $28,000 in contributions to political campaigns between 2014 and 2017, most generously to support Sen. Richard Burr, who received $5,000 from Cameron during the 2016 cycle. Oberlander has no political contributions on record.
Pinnacle West CapitalDon Brandt (2009-2019) Jeff Guldner (2019-)Brandt is Pinnacle’s former CEO, Guldner is its current CEO.Brandt has made more than $300,000 in contributions to political campaigns since 2003, including nearly $38,000 to campaigns supporting Sen. McCain and more than $32,000 supporting Sen. John Barrasso. Brandt's political spending has supported both Republicans and Democrats. Guldner has made more than $82,000 in contributions since 2009, mostly in support of Republicans.
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

The surge in corporate spending primarily benefited a handful of super PACs that were dedicated to electing Republicans during the Obama administration and/or supporting candidates in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.  The top 20 recipients received $230 million, or 74% of the total disclosed corporate donations (see Table 4). The 18 top super PACs that exclusively or almost exclusively supported Republican candidates account for 93% of the top spenders and 69% of all disclosed corporate election spending.

Table 4: Top 20 Recipients of Corporate Donations for Electoral Purposes, 2010-2020

RecipientDescriptionAmount
American CrossroadsRepublican-backing super PAC founded by Karl Rove, an advisor to President George W. Bush, primarily focused on presidential races.$38,962,780
Senate Leadership FundRepublican-backing super PAC led by Steven Law, Sen. Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff, primarily focused on senate races.$33,193,350
Restore Our FutureSuper PAC set up to support Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.$27,892,026
Right To Rise USASuper PAC set up to support Republican Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election.$24,121,745
Congressional Leadership FundSuper PAC set up in 2011 to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives.$20,917,180
Conservative Solutions PACSuper PAC set up to support Republican Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential election.$13,733,000
FreedomWorks for AmericaSuper PAC associated with the organization of FreedomWorks, focused primarily on electing Republicans to the House and Senate and particularly active in the right-wing "Tea Party" movement.$12,436,486
Senate Majority PACSuper PAC (formerly Majority PAC) set up in 2010 by staffers affiliated with former Senate leader Harry Reid to elect Democratic senators.$10,322,900
Freedom Partners Action FundA Super PAC that is part of the Koch brothers' network of right-wing groups, spent primarily to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats. $9,251,925
America First ActionSuper PAC set up in 2017 dedicated to electing Republicans who support President Trump.$5,719,660
House Majority PACSuper PAC created in 2011 to support Democratic House candidates.$4,907,416
New Republican PACSuper PAC set up to support Republican Rick Scott's election to the Senate in 2018.$4,743,700
New Day for AmericaSuper PAC set up to support Republican John Kasich in the 2016 presidential election.$4,084,880
Engage TexasSuper PAC set up to support Republican voter registration.$3,600,000
America LeadsSuper PAC set up to support Republican Chris Christie in the 2016 presidential election.$3,500,000
Stand for TruthSuper PAC set up to support Republican Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential election.$3,450,000
Americans for Prosperity ActionSuper PAC formed by Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity in 2018, received $3 million directly from Koch Industries.$3,000,000
Ending Spending Action FundSuper PAC set up by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts in 2010, has mainly supported Republicans and opposed Democrats.$2,945,000
Arizona Grassroots ActionSingle-candidate super PAC supporting Republican Sen. John McCain.$2,835,000
Fund for Louisiana's FutureSuper PAC supporting Republican Sen. David Vitter, primarily in the 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial election.$2,784,501
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

Over the past decade, disclosed corporate political spending has been particularly active during presidential elections. In 2012, this spending was primarily focused on defeating President Barack Obama or electing his Republican opponent, then-Gov. (now Sen.) Mitt Romney. In 2016, the spending was primarily focused on the Republican primaries.

Several of the corporate political spenders that have been active over the past decade have already started spending in the 2020 election, with the most notable recipients of corporate donations being the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Action, Engage Texas (which is devoted to registering new Republican voters), and the Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund. Among the top 10 corporate donors, the only notable Democratic donor is Waterfront Strategies, a consulting group and advertising vendor that works for Democratic campaigns.

Table 5: Top 10 corporate donors so far in 2020 election cycle

CorporationPrimary RecipientPolitical AlignmentAmount Donated
Koch IndustriesAmericans for Prosperity ActionPro-Republican$1,250,000
Energy Transfer EquityEngage TexasPro-Republican$1,100,000
Hillwood DevelopmentEngage TexasPro-Republican$1,010,000
Chevron CorpCongressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership FundPro-Republican$1,010,000
Trinity Equity PartnersEngage TexasPro-Republican$1,000,000
Valero ServicesCongressional Leadership FundPro-Republican$500,000
Petroplex EnergyEngage TexasPro-Republican$500,000
Mountaire CorpCongressional Leadership FundPro-Republican$500,000
Madison Square GardenNo LabelsBipartisan/Centrist$500,000
Waterfront StrategiesHouse Majority PACPro-Democrat$375,000
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

Section 2: Dark Money

Supreme Court Anthony Justice Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion in the Citizens United ruling that the “advent of the Internet” meant shareholders and citizens would have ample means to know how much corporations are spending to influence elections and how they’re spending it.

But, contrary to Justice Kennedy’s assumption, corporations that want to keep their political activities secret can quietly influence elections by contributing funds to “dark money” groups – that is, groups that engage in election spending but are exempt from disclosure requirements. These nondisclosing groups are primarily organized under section 501(c)(6) of the tax code as trade or business associations and 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit groups. Lawmakers have repeatedly introduced legislation to introduce new disclosure requirements that expose the sources of dark money, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has consistently led his caucus to block these pro-transparency efforts. Advocates have also pushed for reforms that push the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose the political contributions to shareholders, but neither Obama’s nor Trump’s SEC chairs have supported these reforms. Conservatives in Congress have even gone so far as to bury language in the federal budget bill that stops the SEC from finalizing this kind of transparency rule.

Since January 2010, these dark money groups have spent more than $1 billion to influence elections, and because of their secretive nature, it’s impossible to know how much of that $1 billion comes from corporations.

However, nearly a quarter of those funds – $226 million – can be traced to 501(c)(6) trade groups that accept contributions from corporate members. For the purposes of this analysis, we count this election spending as corporate money.

This inference comes with a few caveats. For example, while some corporations disclose their contributions to 501(c)(6) trade groups, it is not possible to determine that those specific funds were used for electioneering purposes and not earmarked for other purposes. Additionally, some trade groups have raised at least some money, presumably for election purposes, from individuals. Citizens United did nothing to alter billionaires’ ability to donate to these organizations.

Nevertheless, because 501(c)(6) trade groups collect large sums from corporate members to advance corporate interests and because of the fungibility of the money the groups use to pursue their various interests, it’s reasonable to count the $226 million they spent to influence elections as “corporate money” for analytical purposes.

A single corporate trade group, the US Chamber of Commerce, is responsible for the vast majority of this spending: $143 million, or 64% of the total since 2010 (see Table 6). The US Chamber’s election spending has overwhelmingly supported Republicans, while other trade associations, such as the National Association of Realtors and the Credit Union National Association, have supported a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

Table 6: The 30 corporate 501(c)(6) trade groups collectively spending $226 million spending to influence elections, 2010-2020.

501(c)(6) Trade GroupTotal
US Chamber of Commerce$143,481,223
National Association of Realtors$32,634,625
Americans for Job Security$25,385,944
American Chemistry Council$10,098,707
National Federation of Independent Business$2,347,183
Freedom Partners$1,953,297
Credit Union National Association$1,926,305
American Bankers Association$1,275,000
National Association of Home Builders$1,020,465
National Association of Manufacturers$886,763
American Hospital Association$840,914
American Resort Development Association$812,800
Associated Builders & Contractors$637,000
Illinois Chamber of Commerce$438,749
Michigan Chamber of Commerce$401,367
Federation of American Hospitals$375,876
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce$338,828
Indiana Chamber of Commerce$131,410
Pennsylvania Business Council$117,992
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Council$114,661
West Virginia Coal Association$112,410
Vapor Technology Association$83,300
Georgia Credit Union League$73,617
Iowa Credit Union League$56,600
Direct Selling Association$50,649
Montana Credit Unions League$49,233
Carolinas Credit Union League$34,417
Retail Association of Maine$25,325
Utah League of Credit Unions$23,184
Ohio Credit Union Defense Coalition$14,748
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC data.

The groundbreaking 2018 Issue One report Dark Money Illuminated revealed more than $85 million in contributions to the US Chamber of Commerce, including $68 million in contributions from corporations and $9.8 million in contributions from other 501(c)(6) groups. Top corporate contributors to the US Chamber include Dow Chemical, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, and Aetna (see Table 7).

Again, because the lack of disclosure makes tracing the purpose of the funds impossible, we can’t know with certainty whether and how much of these funds paid for its $143 million in election expenditures or whether, for example, any or all of these funds went toward the $956 million the US Chamber has spent on lobbying since 2010.

To err on the side of undercounting corporate contributions, contributions to the Chamber from 501(c)(4) groups – even those that are known to receive corporate funding – are not cannot be counted as “corporate.” For example, Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies, a 501(c)(4) associated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC gave the Chamber more than $5 million. The report reveals some of Crossroads’ donors – but these revealed donors primarily are still more dark money 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(4) groups that do not reveal their donors. The dark money shell game makes confidently attributing the true sources of these funds impossible. In the absence of legal disclosure requirements, the corporate revelations come from voluntary disclosures from corporations whose shareholders and other stakeholders have convinced them total secrecy is untenable (for details about corporations’ voluntary political spending disclosures, see the Center for Political Accountability’s annual CPA-Zicklin Index).

Table 7: Top 10 corporate and 501(c)(6) trade group donors to the US Chamber.

DonorSector / TypeAmount
Dow Chemical Co.chemical / manufacturing$13,488,375
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce501(c)(6) trade group$5,500,000
Aetna Inc.health insurance$5,300,000
Chevron Corp.oil & gas$4,500,000
Merck & Co., Inc.pharmaceutical$4,446,250
Microsoft Corp.technology$2,848,250
Qualcomm Inc.technology$2,654,000
Prudential Financial, Inc.Insurance / finance$2,277,300
American Electric Power Company, Inc.energy utility$2,050,000
Association of American Railroads501(c)(6) trade group$2,025,000
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Issue One data.

Including the contributions to the US Chamber of Commerce, the Dark Money Illuminated report finds $762 million in contributions to dark money groups, including $123 million in contributions to 501(c)(6) groups besides the Chamber.

Other kinds of groups, primarily 501(c)(4) nonprofits, account for $745 million in dark money spending since 2010, a significant majority. Issue One’s report identifies $246 million in contributions to 501(c)(4)s, much of it like the American Crossroads funding – impossible to trace because it largely comes from other dark money groups. The Issue One database identifies $22 million in contributions from corporations to groups besides the Chamber. No doubt a meaningful proportion of the rest also comes from corporate sources. But, for now, voters are in the dark.