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Is the Republican Party financed by business and the Democratic Party by labor?

Business definitely favors Republicans and labor is even more solidly Democratic. But a few unions have supported Republicans and the Democrats have always raised most of their money from business. Even most of the Democrats' soft money came from business: from 1992 to 2000, business provided five times as much soft money as labor did. Corporate, trade association, and other business PACs are generally pragmatic and bipartisan in their contributions, so it is not surprising that in 2012 they gave Democrats more than twice what labor PACs gave. Organized labor has always been the Democrats' most reliable financial backer, but it has never had nearly enough money to be the party's financial mainstay.31

What about corporate lobbying? Isn’t that at least as big a problem as campaign finance?

Lobbying and campaign finance are a joint problem, not separate ones. Given FECA contribution limits, corporations naturally spend much more on lobbying members of Congress than on giving them PAC contributions—about thirteen times as much, according to political scientist Lee Drutman. But lobbyists also see campaign contributions as a necessary part of their job: "It's all about having prior relationships, which is why fundraisers are important. It's a lot easier working on an agenda with someone you helped get into office."32

Lobbying and campaign finance sustain one another. Until the 1980s, though, lobbying and making campaign contributions were still different operations, however much they overlapped. That is, campaign contributions opened congressional office doors for lobbyists, but the lobbyists themselves largely stuck to lobbying. That was a division of labor that made sense when most lobbyists were employees of the company whose interests they represented in Washington.33

That division of labor became less clear-cut with the rise of lobbying firms, which allowed corporations to outsource their Washington representation. Once lobbying became a Washington-based business in its own right, it attracted the kind of Washington insiders who used to be the ones being lobbied—insiders such as former members of Congress. Thus was created the now-notorious revolving door, through which former government employees leave office to make much more money as lobbyists, often working on behalf of the same industries that had once lobbied them.

As more members of Congress and congressional staff have become lobbyists, Congress has strengthened its lobbying regulations.

Congress had long restricted the kinds of gifts that members and staff could receive from lobbyists, but it did not begin to regulate the growing campaign finance part of lobbying until the Jack Abramoff scandal. Super lobbyist Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2006, accepting a plea deal that committed him to cooperate with a federal corruption investigation.34

The following year Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which required lobbyists to disclose how much they contributed to and bundled for candidates. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 had focused on requiring lobbyists to register and to report how much they spent on lobbying. At the time, few lobbyists made direct campaign contributions. By the time Abramoff pleaded guilty, however, more lobbyists were making their own contributions and bundling the contributions of others. The 2007 law was the first to recognize that raising campaign funds had become a part of lobbying.35

Super PACs have made raising campaign funds an even more important part of lobbying. In addition to making and bundling contributions and hosting fundraisers at D.C. restaurants, lobbyists showed up as creators, managers of, and advisers to some of the biggest super PACs in 2012. A lobbyist co-founded the first of the big super PACs, American Crossroads, and other lobbyists were advisers to and directors of House Majority PAC and Majority PAC, the Democrats' House and Senate super PACs. A more recent trend is to host "destination fundraisers" at pricey resorts, where the informal setting allows lobbyists to build closer relationships with members. Lobbying and campaign finance have always sustained one another, but in the last decade they have merged to become a single operation.36

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