As the battle to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee rages on, a growing number of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are voting for their favorites with their wallets.
Nineteen chief executive officers of S&P components gave their own money to a Democratic candidate’s principal presidential campaign committee from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year, according to a MarketWatch analysis of Federal Election Commission data on individual contributions. The number of supported White House hopefuls doubled over that time period as just nine CEOs had made such donations in the first quarter.
The contributions continue to show corporate leaders backing top politicians in their companies’ home states, with about half of the giving in that vein. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for example, has received donations from five S&P 500
CEOs — more than any of her rivals. Four of them are leaders of companies with headquarters in Minnesota.
While Klobuchar is among the 10 contenders who met tougher requirements to qualify for Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, she is lagging in polls, getting support of just 1% vs. the 27% support for former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls as of Thursday.
“The odds are significant that she’ll remain in the Senate, and this [donation activity] is a matter of maintaining the relationship with her,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that pushes for better disclosure of corporate political activity.
CEO Doug Baker and Best Buy Co.’s
former CEO Hubert Joly each gave $5,600 to Klobuchar, with Joly’s contribution coming in February while he was still the company’s chief executive. Minnesota’s senior senator also received $2,800 each from General Mills
CEO Jeff Harmening and Medtronic PLC
boss Omar Ishrak. All four companies have headquarters in Minnesota, although in Medtronic’s case, it’s an operational base, and the legal headquarters is in Ireland. The fifth S&P chief who gave to Klobuchar was Virginia-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’s
Chris Nassetta, who contributed $5,600.
A Medtronic spokesman said the company’s policy is to “not comment on personal political contributions of our executives and employees,” while an Ecolab spokesman said Baker, the CEO, “does not have a comment.” A Hilton spokesman said company “won’t be commenting in this situation,” adding that “political donations by our team members are personal decisions and unrelated to their employment.” Best Buy, General Mills and Klobuchar’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Contributions of $5,600 represent efforts to donate the maximum amount allowed to a candidate. The FEC recently raised the amount an individual can give to a candidate to $2,800 per election, up from $2,700, so donors can shell out $2,800 for the primary election and $2,800 for the general election for a total of $5,600. Candidates who lose or drop out of a primary can use their leftover campaign money on a different run for federal office, and they have other options such as contributing to political allies or refunding the cash to donors.
Just behind Klobuchar’s tally, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker scored donations from four S&P 500 CEOs, including $2,700 from the head of New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc.
, Charles Lowrey. Booker, who has strong ties to Silicon Valley, also got money from the execs of two California tech companies — $2,800 from PayPal Holdings Inc.
CEO Dan Schulman and $2,700 from Salesforce.com Inc.
Co-CEO Marc Benioff. In addition, New Jersey’s junior senator attracted a contribution of $2,800 from Connecticut-based Amphenol Corp.’s
R. Adam Norwitt, as shown in the chart above. Salesforce declined to comment, and Prudential, PayPal, Amphenol and Booker’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg drew contributions from three S&P CEOs, including $2,800 from the head honcho at Indiana-based Simon Property Group Inc.
, David Simon. Buttigieg also got $5,600 from California-based Netflix Inc.’s
Reed Hastings and $2,800 from New York-based Nielsen Holdings PLC’s
David Kenny. A Netflix spokesman said the company does not comment “on our executives’ personal activities,” Nielsen declined to comment, and Simon and Buttigieg’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some of Corporate America’s leaders could be aiming to give money to politicians who will end up having significant influence in the future, even if they’re not actually elected president next year, according to the Center for Political Accountability’s Freed. “If you get a Democratic president, then some of these folks who are running could end up in Cabinet positions,” he said, adding that he thinks Buttigieg “has a future” and is “viewed as a serious, very thoughtful candidate.”
Biden was among four Democratic presidential hopefuls who attracted one donation from an S&P boss. The former Delaware senator received $2,800 from Steven Collis, the CEO of AmerisourceBergen Corp.
, which is based in Pennsylvania, the state where Biden was born and that’s home to his campaign headquarters. Meanwhile, California Sen. Kamala Harris got $2,700 from California-based Salesforce’s Benioff. In addition, Jack Dorsey, CEO of California-based Twitter Inc.
gave $5,600 to Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and $2,000 to entrepreneur Andrew Yang, whose unconventional campaign is centered on promising a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for every American over age 18.
Given how Democratic presidential hopefuls have touted their small-dollar donors, how do campaigns think that voters should think about a relatively large contribution from a CEO?
A Biden spokesman, when asked this question, emphasized that regular folks are on the former vice president’s side, saying his presidential campaign is “powered by hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters who are backing him.” In the second quarter, the Biden campaign said its average donation was $49, while the corresponding figure for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was $28, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ average was $18, Harris was at $39, and Buttigieg at $47.
While Yang isn’t a mainstream candidate, Twitter shareholders aren’t likely to be worried about Dorsey’s contribution to that campaign, Freed said. Dorsey himself is “an iconoclast,” and his donation isn’t all that out of the ordinary for someone who heads a relatively new tech company, Freed added. In the filings for Dorsey’s contributions, his employer isn’t listed as Twitter but rather Square Inc.
, a payments company that he also leads as CEO, but that isn’t part of the S&P 500.
One other Democratic contender matched Booker in attracting contributions from four S&P CEOs in this year’s first half — John Hickenlooper. The former Colorado governor dropped out of the Democratic presidential contest in August, switching to a run for Senate. Hickenlooper got donations from the CEOs of two Colorado-based companies, Ball Corp.
and Western Union Co.
, as well as from the bosses of Nebraska-based Union Pacific Corp.
and Louisiana-based CenturyLink Inc.
Other presidential-race dropouts who scored CEO contributions were New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who got money from New York-based Corning Inc.’s
boss, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who received donations from Salesforce’s Benioff and Amphenol’s Norwitt.
When it comes to contributing to President Donald Trump’s re-election, only one S&P 500 CEO has donated money so far to the Republican incumbent’s principal campaign committee, according to the FEC data on contributions made from Jan. 1 to June 30. Vornado Realty Trust’s
Steve Roth gave $200 to that Trump committee, but the New York-based real estate investment trust’s chief exec also contributed $100,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, a joint effort between the president’s principal campaign committee and the Republican National Committee that doesn’t face the same limits on donations as the principal operation.
The CEO of Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services Inc.
, Alan Miller, also donated to Trump Victory, giving $25,000, and the head of Texas-based Waste Management Inc.
, Jim Fish, contributed $1,010 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a related joint effort.
This report was first published on Sept. 10, 2019.