As the battle to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee rages on, a growing number of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are voting for their favorites with their wallets.
Nineteen chief executive officers of S&P components gave their own money to a Democratic candidate’s principal presidential campaign committee from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year, according to a MarketWatch analysis of Federal Election Commission data on individual contributions. The number of supported White House hopefuls doubled over that time period as just nine CEOs had made such donations in the first quarter.
The contributions continue to show corporate leaders backing top politicians in their companies’ home states, with about half of the giving in that vein. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for example, has received donations from five S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.12% CEOs — more than any of her rivals. Four of them are leaders of companies with headquarters in Minnesota.
While Klobuchar is among the 10 contenders who met tougher requirements to qualify for Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, she is lagging in polls, getting support of just 1% vs. the 27% support for former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls as of Thursday.
“The odds are significant that she’ll remain in the Senate, and this [donation activity] is a matter of maintaining the relationship with her,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that pushes for better disclosure of corporate political activity.
Ecolab Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202628210/composite ECL -0.05% CEO Doug Baker and Best Buy Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/205918291/composite BBY -0.47% former CEO Hubert Joly each gave $5,600 to Klobuchar, with Joly’s contribution coming in February while he was still the company’s chief executive. Minnesota’s senior senator also received $2,800 each from General Mills /zigman2/quotes/206659526/composite GIS +0.17% CEO Jeff Harmening and Medtronic PLC /zigman2/quotes/206816578/composite MDT -0.54% boss Omar Ishrak. All four companies have headquarters in Minnesota, although in Medtronic’s case, it’s an operational base, and the legal headquarters is in Ireland. The fifth S&P chief who gave to Klobuchar was Virginia-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202780307/composite HLT +1.84% Chris Nassetta, who contributed $5,600.
A Medtronic spokesman said the company’s policy is to “not comment on personal political contributions of our executives and employees,” while an Ecolab spokesman said Baker, the CEO, “does not have a comment.” A Hilton spokesman said company “won’t be commenting in this situation,” adding that “political donations by our team members are personal decisions and unrelated to their employment.” Best Buy, General Mills and Klobuchar’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Contributions of $5,600 represent efforts to donate the maximum amount allowed to a candidate. The FEC recently raised the amount an individual can give to a candidate to $2,800 per election, up from $2,700, so donors can shell out $2,800 for the primary election and $2,800 for the general election for a total of $5,600. Candidates who lose or drop out of a primary can use their leftover campaign money on a different run for federal office, and they have other options such as contributing to political allies or refunding the cash to donors.
Just behind Klobuchar’s tally, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker scored donations from four S&P 500 CEOs, including $2,700 from the head of New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203750923/composite PRU +0.24% , Charles Lowrey. Booker, who has strong ties to Silicon Valley, also got money from the execs of two California tech companies — $2,800 from PayPal Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL +0.53% CEO Dan Schulman and $2,700 from Salesforce.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200515854/composite CRM -0.15% Co-CEO Marc Benioff. In addition, New Jersey’s junior senator attracted a contribution of $2,800 from Connecticut-based Amphenol Corp.’s /zigman2/quotes/207999687/composite APH +0.19% R. Adam Norwitt, as shown in the chart above. Salesforce declined to comment, and Prudential, PayPal, Amphenol and Booker’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg drew contributions from three S&P CEOs, including $2,800 from the head honcho at Indiana-based Simon Property Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209746667/composite SPG +0.09% , David Simon. Buttigieg also got $5,600 from California-based Netflix Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -1.54% Reed Hastings and $2,800 from New York-based Nielsen Holdings PLC’s /zigman2/quotes/204674663/composite NLSN -1.30% David Kenny. A Netflix spokesman said the company does not comment “on our executives’ personal activities,” Nielsen declined to comment, and Simon and Buttigieg’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some of Corporate America’s leaders could be aiming to give money to politicians who will end up having significant influence in the future, even if they’re not actually elected president next year, according to the Center for Political Accountability’s Freed. “If you get a Democratic president, then some of these folks who are running could end up in Cabinet positions,” he said, adding that he thinks Buttigieg “has a future” and is “viewed as a serious, very thoughtful candidate.”
Biden was among four Democratic presidential hopefuls who attracted one donation from an S&P boss. The former Delaware senator received $2,800 from Steven Collis, the CEO of AmerisourceBergen Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201066379/composite ABC +1.11% , which is based in Pennsylvania, the state where Biden was born and that’s home to his campaign headquarters. Meanwhile, California Sen. Kamala Harris got $2,700 from California-based Salesforce’s Benioff. In addition, Jack Dorsey, CEO of California-based Twitter Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +1.00% gave $5,600 to Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and $2,000 to entrepreneur Andrew Yang, whose unconventional campaign is centered on promising a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for every American over age 18.
Given how Democratic presidential hopefuls have touted their small-dollar donors, how do campaigns think that voters should think about a relatively large contribution from a CEO?