During his State of the Union address, President Obama decried the potential for a crush of corporate money – even foreign money – to enter the American political system in the aftermath of the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling that alters who can contribute to candidates.
But tax forms recently made public show that Democrats have not been immune from collecting corporate funds to help its politicians gain an electoral edge. The Democratic Governors Association vacuumed up $11.6 million in contributions -- mostly from corporations and unions -- during the second half of 2009. For the year, DGA raised $23.1 million, a record.
The contributors included hefty checks from nearly every top lobbying firm in Washington, and from such multi-national giants as Exxon Mobil, which pitched in $50,000. The DGA even accepted funds from the American subsidiaries of companies with foreign ownership. More than $25,000, for instance, came from Diagio, the giant European liquor producer that makes Guiness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and other major brands, which is based in London.
Republicans used a parallel organization, known as the Republican Governor's Association, to bring in nearly $18 million, also largely from corporate donors, most notably large banks and health insurance companies. The GOP also got a boost from wealthy individual givers, including Texas home-builder Bob Perry, a veteran of the 2004 Swift Boat ad campaign that targeted Democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kerry, who gave $2 million, and the celebrity mogul Donald Trump, who gave $75,000. For the year, the RGA pulled in $30 million -- like the Democratic figure, a record.
The governors associations were established to help the parties get their candidates elected across the country. Because they don't invest in federal candidates they were never subject to the ban on corporate and union contributions that the Supreme Court tossed out last month. They organize under section 527 of the tax code, and are therefore required to disclose the identities of their donors.