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First of its kind study shows CEO political donations favor GOP

Data: Cohen, Hazan, Tallarita, and Weiss, The Politics of CEOs, March 2019; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

A new, first of its kind study tracks the political leanings of CEOs by examining 18 years of political contributions by more than 3,800 CEOs of S&P 1500 companies.

The big picture: The chief executives of America's largest public companies are more than twice as likely to lean Republican in their campaign contributions than to favor Democrats.

  • Among big energy companies, CEOs' Republican leanings are even stronger: more than 9 in 10 energy CEOs side with Republicans, and none with Democrats.
  • The study, by professors from Harvard Law School and Tel-Aviv University, classifies a CEO as a Republican or a Democrat if they gave at least two-thirds of their campaign contributions to one party or the other. CEOs that distributed their contributions more evenly between the two major parties were classified as neutral.

Why it matters: Money matters in politics — and CEOs wield significant power in America.

  • The public trusts CEOs more than journalists and government officials, according to a recent Edelman survey, and 84% "expect CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more pressing societal issues."
  • They sit on presidential advisory committees like President Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, which included J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon and GM's Mary Barra, and Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
  • And they potentially influence how their companies make independent political expenditures, a large and growing source of campaign finance since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC decision.

The other side: CEOs are responsible for maximizing shareholder value, and "some might argue that support for Republicans is consistent with shareholder interests because share value would benefit from the low-tax and deregulatory policies promoted by Republicans," according to the study.

How they did it: Harvard Law School's Alma Cohen and Roberto Tallarita and Tel-Aviv University's Moshe Hazan and David Weiss analyzed the political contributions to candidates, committees, and parties from 3,810 individuals who served as CEOs of companies in the S&P 1500 index between 2000 and 2017.