Fixed Fortunes update: Big donors score as 113th Congress sunsets


The very last bill the Senate sent to President Barack Obama’s desk Tuesday night — as the clock ran out on the the 113th Congress — was a holiday package worth billions of dollars to Fixed Fortunes 200 companies that Sunlight identified earlier this year. The goodies include tax breaks, new spending and even a revision to the Affordable Care Act.

Health insurers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, manufacturers like Boeing and General Electric, restaurant chains like McDonald’s, big banks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin all stand to benefit from the Senate’s uncharacteristically bipartisan vote.

Those companies are among the 200 that Sunlight, after examining 14 million records including campaign contribution and lobbying data, identified as being most politically active corporations in America. On average, Fixed Fortunes companies got $760 in federal business and support for every dollar they spent on politics between 2007 and 2012. This year, they’ve been just as active.

Corporate lobbyists’ ability to win financial benefits tailored just for their clients in the waning days of a lame duck Congress is arguably a result of partisan gridlock: The lawmakers’ inability to accomplish even the most fundamental of tasks of a legislature — passing a budget and spending bills — left Congress facing a deadline to keep the government from shutting down or voters taxes from being hiked. The result: a series of grab-bag must-pass bills that became inviting targets for special interests looking to toss aboard a few riders of their own.

Some 89 Fixed Fortunes companies disclosed lobbying Congress to renew $32 billion of expiring tax breaks in a the bill the Senate approved last night; the House approved it last week. The tax breaks are narrowly targeted provisions that benefit companies in specific industries.

The nation’s largest railroad, Union Pacific, as well as the parent company of BNSF Railway, Berkshire Hathaway, both lobbied for the railroad track maintenance credit, which will save railroad companies an estimated $207 million over ten years. National Amusements, which owns the CBS television network, Viacom and Paramount, lobbied for a film and television production tax break worth as much as $245 million in 2015 alone. Its competitors among Fixed Fortunes companies, Walt Disney and Comcast, did not specify the Hollywood tax break, but did disclose lobbying on the tax extenders bill.

Darden Restaurants, which owns the Longhorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden chains, as well as McDonald’s lobbied on a provision that gives a tax break for improvements to any commercial building where, in the words of the Internal Revenue Code, “more than 50 percent of the building’s square footage is devoted to preparation of, and seating for on-premises consumption of, prepared meals.” The tax break for restaurants is one component of a provision that will cost the Treasury $2.3 billion over ten years. Safeway, meanwhile, pushed for a bigger charitable deduction for food it donates to charities — all told, it’s worth $143 million to the companies that claim the credit when they file their taxes in 2015.

Energy credits also drew lobbying, including from oil companies like Anadarko Petroleum and utility firms like Xcel Energy. And 20 companies, including defense giants BAE Systems and United Technologies, pharmaceutical maker Amgen and software developer Microsoft, lobbied to extend the $7.6 billion research credit (although they would have preferred to make it permanent).

Other holiday goodies for the nation’s biggest political spenders turned up in the “CRomnibus,” the 1600-page continuing resolution and omnibus spending bill that will fund most of the government in 2015.

The bill contains items on the wish list of multiple Fixed Fortunes firms, including funding for the Export-Import Bank (which benefits manufacturers like Boeing and General Electric as well as big banks) and an extra $479 million to buy F-35 fighters, made by Lockheed Martin and United Technologies. (For an excellent rundown of spending provisions in the bill, see this analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense.)

And while Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or otherwise dismantle the law failed, Congress did manage to approve a special provision that amends it. Spotted by National Review, it lets Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies count as “patient care” the expenses that other insurers must count as administrative expenses. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on care rather than administrative expenses.

But the most widely reported special interest provision in the CRomnibus allowed banks to speculate on derivatives using deposits insured by taxpayers, overturning a key reform in the Dodd-Frank legislation passed in the wake of the 2008 financial industry meltdown. The measure drew the ire of Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. But one of the Democratic Party’s major benefactors, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, personally called lawmakers to support the measure. So did Citigroup; the New York Times reported in 2013 that the bank backed the change. And why not? Its lobbyists, in fact, wrote the measure.