U.S. Automakers Smell the Winds of Change. Will Builders of Gas Hogs and SUVs Change their Products or just to whom they send political donations?
Detroit 3 swing support to Dems
November 29, 2007
BY TODD SPANGLER
DETROIT FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
WASHINGTON -- Long a reliable contributor to Republican candidates and causes at the federal level, the auto industry is giving a lot less overall than it did four years ago but donating more of it to Democrats now that they hold majorities in Congress.
Republicans still get the lion's share of the money in this election cycle -- 67% from auto-related business, including dealers, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed federal campaign records this fall.
But the amount contributed to federal candidates and parties -- $5.1 million -- is 20% less than in the same period in the last presidential election cycle, in 2003-04. In that cycle, Democrats got just 22% of the money contributed, compared with 33% so far this year.
The swing is even more pronounced when looking at Detroit's automakers.
From General Motors Corp., the split is an even 50-50 between the parties this year. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC contributions have swung even more definitively to the Democratic side.
"What we now have is a year when it looks like this is likely to be a Democratic cycle, so it's not surprising we're starting to see some shift toward the Democrats," said Anthony Corrado, who studies campaign finance as a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and as a professor at Maine's Colby College.
"You're seeing that not only in the auto industry but in other industries," he said.
That is borne out by the data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics and published on its Web site, http://www.opensecrets.org/.
In a year when news reports have touted the Democrats' success in fund-raising, particularly in the presidential race, the data show many traditionally Republican sectors leaning more Democratic this year.
The securities and investment business, for instance, hasn't gone for Democrats in a presidential cycle since 1992. This year, however, 61% of its money is going to Democrats. The trend also is apparent in the real estate industry and among health professionals.
Meanwhile, other industries -- like automotive -- may still be in the Republicans' corner overall, but some are giving less. Those giving more, like the oil and gas industry, aren't keeping pace with the increases from traditionally Democratic givers like nonprofit institutions and education interests.
Lawyers and law firms, traditionally the largest federal donor by sector and one that strongly leans Democratic, has increased giving 52%, to $76.4 million, this year -- with 77% going to Democrats.
The UAW, a staunch Democratic giver, has contributed $436,410, fourth among industrial unions, with nearly all of it going to Democrats. The UAW total is not included with the auto sector in overall calculations.
When compiling its data, the Center for Responsive Politics not only counts contributions made by political action committees tied to an industry trade group or corporation, but also tallies donations of $200 or more made by anyone who lists his or her occupation or employer as part of the industry.
For example, Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, has collected more than $9,000 in individual donations from top managers at GM, Ford and Chrysler and leads recipients from automakers as a group, with more than $111,000 in contributions so far.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, with $357,250, leads all recipients in the industry as a whole. Four years ago, President George W. Bush led automakers and the industry as a whole.
In the automotive sector, none of the Detroit Three is the biggest donor overall, however. That would be the National Auto Dealers Association, since at least 1990.
The NADA remains reliably Republican, but this year it has been giving less -- $709,750 compared with $865,800 in the first nine months of 2003. The money has been split 39% to Democrats and 61% to Republicans, a slight change from the 31%-69% split four years ago.
The big change with the Detroit Three has been in the Democrat-Republican split.
GM's donations, now an even split, went 54% to Republicans in the first nine months of 2003 and a wider margin, 65%, to the GOP by the end of that cycle.
Ford, which sent 66% of its donations to Republicans at this point four years ago and ended the cycle with a slightly larger share for the GOP, has sent 60% of its contributions to Democrats this year.
Four years ago, 61% of Chrysler donations went to GOP campaigns and parties; this year, Democrats have gotten 55%.
Contributions from Detroit's automakers as a group have come down slightly, from $908,489 in the first nine months of 2003 to $881,831 this year. The decline is attributable to a huge drop in Ford's giving; the others have increased contributions somewhat.
When asked about the change, GM spokesman Greg Martin said, "PAC spending generally reflects the election cycle, political party shifts on Capitol Hill and similar considerations."
Bruce Andrews, Ford's vice president of government relations in Washington, said his company's giving with its PAC is down, but the company is smaller, too.
"Our policy has always been to support those members who support us," he said.
Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said that "voters and industries are pushing back against Republicans which have failed to address major problems like health care."