Business interests made $3.5 billion in federal political contributions during the 2022 cycle, an OpenSecrets analysis of post-general reports filed with the Federal Election Commission found. That’s up from $3.3 billion, adjusted for inflation, spent during the 2018 midterm election cycle.
Business interests outspent organized labor 14-to-1 during the 2022 election cycle, down from 16-to-1 during the 2018 midterm election cycle.
Business PACs made $341.3 million in federal contributions, five times the total contributions labor PACs reported through post-general reports filed with the FEC. “Business PACs” — as defined and designated by OpenSecrets — includes not only PACs associated with for-profit corporations, but also cooperative and trade association PACs that receive dues from businesses with a stake in these influential industries.
OpenSecrets tracks the political activity of more than 2,200 business PACs, including PACs affiliated with around 1,320 self-identified corporations, which far outnumber organized labor PACs.
The National Association of Realtors was both the top-spending business PAC of the 2022 election cycle and the top federal lobbying spender of 2022. The National Association of Realtors PAC poured $4 million into federal contributions during the 2022 election cycle — the group itself spent $125.7 million on federal lobbying during the same period in 2021 and 2022.
The group’s lobbying “reflects NAR’s broad mission of building strong communities, supporting the real estate economy (which makes up nearly 20% of the overall U.S. economy), promoting vibrant business environments, and securing the most efficient market possible for consumers,” a National Association of Realtors spokesperson told OpenSecrets in a written statement. In 2022, the group succeeded in removing tax increase provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act and securing bipartisan co-sponsors for a bill that would provide grants to develop under-utilized shopping centers, among other advocacy “wins,” OpenSecrets previously reported.
More members of the 118th Congress pledged to refuse corporate PAC money than ever before, but the massive influence of business interests in the political process persists.
The campaigns of 428 U.S. House members reported receiving a total of $291.7 million from business PACs during the 2022 election cycle, a new OpenSecrets analysis found. During the same period, seven House campaigns reported receiving no money from business PACs – Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.).
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also reported no business PAC contributions during the 2022 election cycle, though none of those senators were up for reelection. The other 94 senators in the 118th Congress reported receiving a combined $85.5 million from business PACs through the same period.
Corporate PACs and industry trade groups have steered more than $66 million to election objectors since Jan. 6, 2021, OpenSecrets previously reported. While numerous corporations pledged to stop or reevaluate PAC giving to Congress’ so-called “Sedition Caucus,” several companies including AT&T, Boeing, Cigna, Comcast, General Motors, Home Depot, Lockheed Martin, Marathon Petroleum, Pfizer, Raytheon, UPS, UnitedHealth, Verizon and Walmart resumed corporate PAC contributions to election objectors.
In an effort to reduce corporate influence in Congress, Ossoff and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) introduced the Ban Corporate PACs Act in January 2022. The bill did not apply to all business PACs, only to PACs established and managed by for-profit corporations, highlighting an ongoing debate about how to keep corporate cash out of politics.
The rise of no corporate PAC pledges — and what that term means
While the Ban Corporate PACs Act did not pass in 2022, there is a growing movement to reject corporate PAC contributions. End Citizens United, a left-leaning campaign finance reform nonprofit, organizes the “No Corporate PAC” pledge.
End Citizens United — and the FEC — define corporate PACs as PACs with a separate segregated fund connected to a corporation or corporation without capital stock. For example, corporate PAC includes those affiliated with 3M and Honeywell but not from the American Chemistry Council, a trade association that boasts 158 dues-paying members including the two aforementioned companies.
“We use the FEC’s definition because it’s unambiguous; it removes subjectivity,” Bawadden Sayed, national spokesperson for End Citizens United, told OpenSecrets in a written statement. “We drew a hard line there, but candidates are welcome to go beyond that and refuse other sources of money.”
PACs connected with a corporation that engage in federal elections self-identify as corporate PACs when filing a statement of organization with the FEC. But these designations are not policed by the FEC, and some for-profit companies may not identify as corporations on FEC disclosures.
Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG are not registered as corporate PACs, for example, because they are organized as “professional services networks” and thus register as membership organizations, which fall under OpenSecrets’ definition of business PAC. Some law and lobbying firms including Covington and Burling or Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld are not also technically corporations but fall within the broad business PAC definition.
The End Citizens United pledge also does not require candidates to turn away contributions from corporate executives.
But it’s a “real sacrifice” for candidates to swear off corporate contributions, Sayed told OpenSecrets.
“The overwhelming majority of members of Congress take corporate PAC money. It’s an easy source of funding,” Sayed wrote. “The members who have taken this pledge are going above and beyond, and they’re leaving millions of dollars on the table.”
Murphy, one of the lawmakers who signed onto the “No Corporate PAC” pledge, previously reported receiving $538,000 from corporate PACs from 2017 to the end of 2020. But Murphy has yet to report any contributions from corporate PACs since the start of 2021 — he also has not reported contributions from business PACs, which had contributed a total of $1 million to his campaign from 2017 to the end of 2020, according to OpenSecrets data. Murphy is up for reelection in 2024.
Seventy-three members of the 118th Congress signed onto the “No Corporate PAC” pledge, Roll Call reported in December, up from 59 members at the start of the 117th Congress and 56 at the beginning of the 116th Congress.
“The 118th Congress has a record number of no corporate PAC members because rejecting corporate PAC money is good policy and good politics,” Sayed told OpenSecrets. “The movement has grown in every Congress since 2016, and we expect it to continue gaining momentum.”
Sayed called the pledge “a powerful way to prove to voters that you are willing to go the extra mile to fix our broken system and fight for the people in Congress.”
Senior Researcher Doug Weber and Committees Researcher Andrew Mayersohn contributed to this report.