Fortune 500 companies that invested millions of dollars in electing Republicans
are emerging as the earliest beneficiaries of a government controlled by President
Bush and the largest GOP House and Senate majority in a half century.
MBNA Corp., the credit card behemoth and fifth-largest contributor to Bush's
two presidential campaigns, is among those on the verge of prevailing in an
eight-year fight to curtail personal bankruptcies. Exxon Mobil Corp. and others
are close to winning the right to drill for oil in Alaska's wildlife refuge,
which they have tried to pass for better than a decade. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.,
another big contributor to Bush and the GOP, and other big companies recently
won long-sought protections from class-action lawsuits.
Republicans have pursued such issues for much of the past decade, asserting
that free market policies are the smartest way to grow the economy. But now
it appears they finally have the legislative muscle to push some of their agenda
through Congress and onto the desk of a president eager to sign pro-business
measures into law. The chief reason is Bush's victory in 2004 and GOP gains
in Congress, especially in the Senate, where much of corporate America's agenda
has bogged down in recent years, according to Republicans and Democrats.
"These are not real high-profile, sexy issues like the war or Social Security,
but these are issues that have huge economic consequences," said Charles
R. Black Jr., a GOP lobbyist and one of the president's top fundraisers. "And
there is more to come on that score."
Bush and his congressional allies are looking to pass legal protections for
drug companies, doctors, gun manufacturers and asbestos makers, as well as tax
breaks for all companies and energy-related assistance sought by the oil and
With 232 House seats, Republicans have their largest majority since 1949. This
is the first time since the Calvin Coolidge administration in 1929 that the
GOP has simultaneously held 55 or more Senate seats and the presidency. Senate
Republicans are only five votes shy of the 60 needed to break the most powerful
tool the minority holds in Congress -- the filibuster.
Over the next four years, the GOP hopes to use this enhanced power to approve
the president's judicial nominees, some of whom Democrats lambaste as too conservative,
and restructure Social Security and the tax code. But in the early days of the
109th Congress, it is corporations, which largely bankrolled the GOP's resurgence
that began a decade ago with the Republican takeover of the House, that are
As recent Senate votes on bankruptcy and class-action lawsuits showed, corporations
rely on a number of Democrats in the House and Senate and continue to contribute
generously to both parties. But in the 2004 elections, Republicans received
66 percent of corporate political action committee (PAC) money, which reflects
a trend of businesses tilting support toward the GOP over the last decade. In
1993-94, business PACs gave slightly more to Democrats.
R. Bruce Josten, top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said businesses
feel a sense of urgency to enact as many pro-business laws as possible before
a fight over judicial nominees or a Supreme Court opening brings legislative
action to a "screeching halt."
Wal-Mart, the retailer many experts consider the most-sued company in America,
stands to benefit from the new class-action law, which is designed to cut down
on lawsuits and big verdicts by steering some cases into federal courts, away
from state courts with track records of siding with plaintiffs and awarding
multimillion-dollar verdicts, according to policy experts.
The company, which expressed disdain for Washington politics in the 1990s,
changed its tune dramatically after then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)
sat down with the company's managers in Bentonville, Ark., in the late 1990s
and warned them of the perils of sitting on the sidelines.
Soon after, Wal-Mart became a major player in GOP politics, funneling money
to groups such as the U.S. Chamber to lobby on its behalf and creating a political
action committee. In the elections last year, the company's $2.4 million PAC
was the third-largest corporate PAC in the country, with nearly 80 percent of
its money going to Republicans. Wal-Mart officials contributed more than $30,000
to Bush last election, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled
by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that prepared
the fundraising data for this article.
In many cases, companies such as Wal-Mart spend significantly more money hiring
Republican lobbyists and helping fund groups such as the U.S. Chamber and other
GOP-dominated trade associations that are not required to disclose their donors
than they devote to political candidates. Wal-Mart, for instance, has contributed
at least $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber documents.
Marty Heires, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company did not want to comment
for this report. "They want to play it low-key on this," he said.
Wal-Mart is only one of scores of businesses that sought the class-action law.
The companies, which included technology firms such as Intel Corp. and pharmaceutical
giants such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc, did much of their lobbying quietly though
a group called the Class Action Fairness Coalition, which is run by the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform. Both refused to disclose their
In the end, the companies prevailed because the larger GOP majorities were
joined by several pro-business Democrats, who were comfortable with the compromises
they negotiated that limited the effects of the bill. Many of these Democrats
also received substantial campaign contributions from companies concerned about
class-action cases, the Center for Responsive Politics found. The story is the
same for the bankruptcy bill, which recently passed the Senate and appears headed
to easy passage in the House and to Bush's desk this spring.
United Republicans are counting on the support of enough Democrats to pass
a bill that has been stalled since the mid-1990s. It would require many people
filing for bankruptcy to repay more of their debt. Under current law, tens of
thousands of people file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which erases all of their
debt. The new law makes it harder to file for the more generous Chapter 7 protections.
Most Democrats and consumers groups say the new law is too hard on the sick,
divorced and unemployed. Supporters argue that it is a necessary and long-overdue
way of preventing people from shirking their debts when they could repay at
least a portion of them.
Like the class-action law, hundreds of companies stand to benefit from changes
in the bankruptcy law, even though it will include new mandates on business,
including one requiring credit companies to tell consumers how long it will
take to pay off their balance if they make only the minimum payments. Credit
card and banking companies, who are leading the lobbying effort, were top financers
of Bush's two campaigns. MBNA, Credit Suisse First Boston LLC, Bank of America
Corp. and Wachovia Corp. were among the top 20 contributors to Bush, contributing
more than $300,000 apiece.
The legislation includes several provisions benefiting specific industries.
Retailers such as Target and Nordstrom, which help fund the National Retail
Federation, a trade association lobbying for the bill, will benefit because
they lose substantial money each year when people erase their debt through bankruptcy.
"Retailers who offer credit card programs are left holding the bag on bad
debt," said Craig Sherman, spokesman for the retail federation. "This
legislation will get us out of this situation." Target contributed 80 percent
of its $300,000-plus PAC money to Republicans last election.
Ford Credit Co. and others would benefit from a provision that stipulates that
all automobile loans be repaid in full by people who file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy,
or the auto will be repossessed. Under current law, only the present value of
the car must be repaid. Ford Motor donated more than 80 percent of its PAC money
to the GOP.
While bankruptcy is almost sure to become law, Bush's push to open Alaska's
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling still must clear several hurdles.
The Senate's 51 to 49 vote on a section of the budget resolution last week moved
companies such as Exxon Mobil closer than ever to realizing their goal. If allowed,
Exxon Mobil and other oil conglomerates would probably compete for the right
to drill there, company officials say. Nearly 1 million barrels of crude oil
a day could be pumped from the area by 2025, according to government forecasts.
"It only happened because Americans elected a larger [Republican] majority,"
said Jim DeMint (S.C.), one of seven new GOP senators who supported oil drilling,
citing America's dependence on increasingly expensive foreign oil.
As further proof that the GOP and business alone still do not have enough power
to work their will, many involved with the issue credited the Teamsters union
with playing a key role in the recent Senate victory.
Exxon Mobil, which was the largest contributor among energy companies in 2004,
has given $5.2 million to Republicans in the past decade and less than $650,000
to Democrats. Bush received $2.5 million from oil and gas companies for his
reelection bid alone.
Lauren Kerr, spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said the company has been clear about
its support for allowing drilling in ANWR and transparent about its political
activities. Kerr said the company believes that "it's important to look
at resources we have in our country."
Exxon Mobil is a leading contributor to Arctic Power, a lobbying group formed
to promote drilling in Alaska. Kerr would only confirm that Exxon Mobil is a
member of Arctic Power. As for its political contributions, she said, "We
support a range of candidates that support issues that are important to the
Researcher Madonna A. Lebling contributed to this report.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company