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How Bay Area Corporations Resemble Their (Human) Neighbors 

Wednesday, Apr 18 2012

The Supreme Court may have confirmed that corporations are people, but many Americans remain skeptical. These so-called people, after all, avoid the dues our society demands: Chevron has never been to the dentist. Google has never waited in line at the DMV. Safeway has never asked an attractive person in the club to dance only to hear, "I'm just dancing with friends tonight."

To the court the defining characteristic of personhood seems to be participation in the political process. By that standard, 14 Fortune 500 companies in the Bay Area have been very busy people indeed. Each possesses a political action committee that has contributed at least $75,000 during the current election cycle — for a combined total of more than $4 million. Essentially extensions of lobbying, corporate PACs allow organizations to send cash to specific political targets, without directly tying an individual donor's name to those targets.

Half of those PACs have given a majority of their money to Republicans, half of them to Democrats. But party loyalty varies among these corporations. Chevron, for instance, leans hard to the right. Of the $305,000 it's donated, 89 percent has gone to GOP causes. Another consistently Republican supporter, S.F. health care company McKesson, has given the party 65 percent of its $282,000 pot.

PG&E, on the other hand, has gone blue every election since 2000. In the 2012 cycle, 58 percent of its $334,000 has gone to Democrats. Much of this reflects the energy company's support for nearby incumbents — it has given money to 27 California legislators. Among six-figure donors, though, Safeway leans furthest to the left, sending 62 percent of its $214,000 to Democrats. The Pleasanton-based grocery chain is a recent convert to liberalism, going red from 2000 to 2008 before turning slightly blue in 2010. (This probably has something to do with fighting off those non-union Wal-Mart groceries.)

But most corporate people seem to lean independent. Outside of Chevron, Safeway, and McKesson, none of the local companies' PACs gave more than 60 percent to one side or the other. Wells Fargo (57 percent of $505,000 to Republicans), Google (51 percent of $302,000 to Democrats), Visa (57 percent of $199,00 to Republicans), and Santa Clara-based tech company Applied Materials (55 percent of $92,000 to Democrats) hedged their bets.

Where is all this money going? Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a veteran conservative who has fought against copyright infringement, took $62,000 from local Fortune 500 PACs, including $13,000 from Google. Kevin McCarthy, Bakersfield congressman and House majority whip, received $54,000. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who once tweeted "I'm going to vote NO on #PIPA and #SOPA. The Internet is too important to our economy," got $42,000, nearly half of which came from Intel, Cisco, and Oracle. And Dianne Feinstein banked $38,000.

Clearly, the newest members of our democracy are passionate about the political process.

About The Author

Albert Samaha


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