Winners and Losers


Now that the dust has nearly settled from Tuesday’s election, it’s time to calculate winners and losers among the nation’s biggest blocs of political donors. I’ve been looking over the numbers at the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website – specifically the chart showing the 20 biggest industry donors to this year’s campaign.

“Industry,” I should point out, is a term of art on the CRP website. It includes not just familiar industries from the business world, but other categories of political donors from the labor and ideological worlds as well. “Interest groups” is probably a better way to think of it.

A quick glance at the chart shows a real mixed bag of winners and losers, if you define that as Democratic-leaning versus Republican-leaning. Of the top 20 “industries” funding the elections, 11 showed a marked preference for Republicans, six gave more to Democrats, and three split their money almost exactly down the middle.

The most Republican-leaning industry on the top 20 list – and therefore the biggest loser – was the oil & gas industry. With only 17% of its dollars going to Democrats, the industry has long been a favorite punching bag in Democratic stump speeches – after all, what have they got to lose?

Don’t look for the new party in power to do the industry any favors when Congress convenes in January. In fact, rolling back recent tax breaks and subsidies to the industry is one of the first orders of business that incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) has already identified.

The pharmaceutical industry has been another Democratic bugbear on the stump, even though its proportion of dollars to Democrats hasn’t been as stingy as the oilmen’s. They’ll pay a price for that GOP support as rewriting the Medicare drug bill has been pegged as another top-tier Democratic priority.

The original bill the Republicans pushed through included a provision prohibiting the federal government from paying anything less than retail prices for the drugs it buys. That was a big win for the drug companies, but an irresistible target for Democrats on the campaign trail. They’ll be looking for some Walmart-size discounts when Congress convenes in January.

On the winning side, possibly no one did better than the lawyers. Not only did 70% of their dollars go to Democrats, but the sheer volume of their giving – nearly $93 million and still counting – assures that they’ve got an abundance of grateful allies in the new regime.

What that will probably mean in practical terms is that we’ll hear a lot less talk in the next two years about limiting the liability of manufacturers against lawsuits when their products prove defective. This was a big priority for the GOP, but it’s now off the agenda – at least for the next two years.

Those three interest groups may be the most radically affected by the big Democratic win on Tuesday, but a host of others will also need to regroup and make adjustments. The first order of business for many of them will be dispatching post-election checks to the new winners – a Washington ritual when the unexpected happens at the polls.

The last time a big shift like this occurred was in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and his band of conservatives stormed Capitol Hill and – to everyone’s surprise – ousted the Democrats from the majority they’d held in the House of Representatives for 40 years.

When the power shifted, so did the money. Here’s how today’s top 20 industries adjusted their giving patterns between 1994 and 1996. The numbers indicate how much their share increased to Republican candidates.

Every single interest group – with the sole exception of retirees – gave a bigger share of their campaign dollars to Republicans once they were in power.

The same thing is likely to happen now that the Democrats are back in control on Capitol Hill, though the bump may not be as large – or enthusiastic – as it was when the Republicans took over 12 years ago.

All of this will fascinating to watch as it plays out over the next two years. Our first indications of revised loyalties will start to come into focus when the FEC reports start rolling in – at the end of January – showing each winner’s post-election fundraising.

Gentlemen, start your check-writing.