POLITICS
08/26/2014 07:35 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2014

Corporate PACs Stick With Senate Democrats In Tough Races So Far

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- In the most heavily contested Senate races over seats now held by Democrats, corporations and business trade associations are largely sticking with the Democrats as they dole out funds from their political action committees.

A review of Federal Election Commission records by The Huffington Post found that PACs affiliated with corporations and trade associations have given $9 million combined to the Democratic Senate candidates in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina in this electoral cycle. Their Republican challengers have received just $2.9 million from that category of PACs.

Why isn't the business community unreservedly backing the GOP? Money from corporations and trade associations can be motivated by ideology, but corporate PACs also seek to maintain influence by anticipating which party will control the majority in the next Congress.

Late in the midterm campaigns of 2006, these PACs shifted their contributions to House Democratic candidates and party committees as it became clear that the Republicans would lose control of the lower chamber. The same dynamic played out ahead of the 2010 elections, when corporate PACs turned their donations toward the Republicans early in the election year.

Although most polling analyses give the GOP the advantage in the battle for Senate control this year, that same shift of corporate contributions could not be seen in the first six months of 2014.

The corporate PAC disparity favoring Democrats stems in large part from the huge advantages held by Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Begich (Alaska). Both Pryor and Landrieu are moderates familiar to the corporate world and known as friendly to major industries in their respective states. Hagan and Begich have also taken many pro-business stances, including the latter's strong support for Alaska's energy and fishing industries.

Democrats should take note, however, of shifts already occurring in a handful of individual races.

The most notable change came in Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner (R) has surpassed Sen. Mark Udall (D) in corporate and trade association PAC cash in recent months. After raising a little more than half of Udall's total from these PACs in 2013, Gardner has pulled in $553,863 in the first half of 2014 compared to Udall's $407,686.

Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) has also outraised her Democratic opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, in PAC money in 2014 after pulling in little the previous year. They are competing for the seat being vacated by Sen. Carl Levin (D).

Both North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), who is challenging Hagan, and Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), who is running against Rep. Bruce Braley (D) to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D), improved their corporate and trade association haul following victories in contested primaries.

The two Republican-occupied Senate seats targeted by Democrats this year tell different stories. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has raised $2.4 million from corporate and trade association PACs, more than any other 2014 Senate candidate. His Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, has raised less than $20,000. The race to fill the Georgia seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) has yet to see any major corporate PAC donations. David Perdue, who emerged as the Republican nominee following tough primary and runoff elections, has raised less than $30,000 from those donors, while Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn has received just $56,000.

Democratic candidates in Senate races across the country are trying to increase their appeal to corporate America. Recently, they have made it a point to call for the re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank. The bank, which provides credit backing U.S. exports, faces opposition from tea party groups and their allies in Congress. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many big corporate PAC donors, like General Electric and Boeing, have made it a priority to renew the bank's charter.

Corporate PACs traditionally tend to favor incumbents as they prefer to preserve their already established access and influence rather than attempt to build new relationships. Note that the top corporate PAC fundraisers among Republican Senate challengers include incumbent congressmen like Gardner trying to move up to higher office.

In past elections in which a chamber of Congress switched parties, PAC contributions also shifted toward likely future committee chairs. So far, corporate and trade association PAC money has kept streaming into the coffers of Democrats expected to lead Senate committees come 2015.

The PAC money in question comes from employees and executives of a company or members of a trade association. By law, the PAC is limited in how much it can give individual federal candidates.

Other groups, empowered by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, are not. Much of the unlimited corporate cash to be spent on political campaigns flows through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which plans to spend big to help elect a Republican majority in the Senate -- even if those lawmakers oppose its priorities like passing comprehensive immigration reform, renewing the Export-Import Bank and not shutting down the government.

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