More than one in five of Britain’s largest corporations are channelling political donations to favoured candidates ahead of next month’s elections in the US – though these sums may be only the tip of a new campaign-financing iceberg, according to leading politicians, judges and pro-transparency watchdogs. As election year reaches its climax, America is forecast to experience the most extensively corporate-influenced race for the White House, and for control of Capitol Hill, in living memory. Among the industries already well versed in bankrolling US politics are finance, pharmaceuticals, energy and defence. British multinationals such as HSBC, Barclays, Experian, Prudential, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, BP, Shell and BAE all have political action committees (PACs) that channel donations from employees to US politicians.
Some 14 of the top 50 most active foreign-controlled PACs have parent groups listed in London, according to Washington group the Centre for Responsive Politics. This makes the UK the biggest hub for non-US multinationals seeking to exert influence at the US ballot box on 6 November. Despite this, some FTSE 100 groups continue to tell shareholders in annual reports and elsewhere that they do not make political donations. Companies are able to make such claims because PACs receive their funds from US employees – often led by the most senior American executives – and only dip into company coffers to cover administrative costs. Typically, the PACs are staffed by company lobbyists and distribute campaign contributions in line with the company’s lobbying agenda. Recent supreme court rulings have transformed the regulatory landscape for corporations seeking to bring their influence to bear. So concerned has President Obama become that he raised the issue in his state of the union address two years ago: “I believe [the rulings] will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”