Big businesses own the US Congress

Today, I was going to write a post related to ecological matters, but I just stumbled upon an article from the magazine Mother Jones which I thought was very much worth sharing. Indeed, the journalist Dave Gilson has recently wondered what if members of the US Congress were seated not by party but according to the industries which gave them the most money over their entire careers? Interesting question indeed.

He gave it a try and presented the following charts, representing lobbies “seating” at the Senate and at the House. I copied both charts below, as well as a selection of interesting Congressmen’s profile based on their top donors.

There is nothing original in saying that most politicians evolving at national levels have intricate links with major industries, but Mother Jones has done a stupendous job in presenting it clearly. I wished we could see such work done in other countries, or even at the European Union level.

The Senate


Finance, insurance, and real estate  57

Lawyers and lobbyists  25

Health  5

Agribusiness  3

Labor  2

Energy and natural resources  2

Miscellaneous business  2 Communications and electronics  1 No money raised  3

Total seats | 100

Sen. Saxby Chambliss

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga)

Total raised: $31.8 million, 12% from agribusiness

Top donors: The ranking member of the agriculture committee has never met a federal farm subsidy he didn’t like. He just happens to be Congress’ second-most bountiful recipient of agribusiness cash.

Sen. James Inhofe

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla)

Total raised: $16.2 million, 13% from energy and natural resources

Top donors: Inhofe, who’s declared that “man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith,” has received more money from Koch Industries than any other company. The oil firm has given nearly $25 million to climate-change denial groups.

Any conflicts of interests here?…

The House


Labor  159

Finance, insurance, and real estate  159

Health  26

Agribusiness  23

Lawyers and lobbyists  20

Misc business  18

Energy and natural resources  10

Defense  7 Transportation  6 Communications and electronics  4 Construction  1 Unfilled seats  2

Total seats | 435

Rep. David Obey Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.)

Total raised: $10.8 million, 21% from labor

Top donors: The chair of the appropriations committee and a subcommittee with oversight of labor matters, is the House’s second-biggest recipient of union cash.

Rep. Joe Barton Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)

Total raised: $17.2 million, 19% from energy and natural resources

Top donors: Barton, who decried the “shakedown” of BP, has watched the cash flow from Anadarko Petroleum, owner of 25% of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well.

Rep. Ike Skelton

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo)

Total raised: $8.3 million, 17% from defense

Top donors: The Armed Services Committee chair is—surprise!— Congress’ top recipient of defense-industry cash.

In addition to these charts and profiles, Mother Jones has also listed Congress’s top 75 corporate sponsors. You will probably not be surprised to see that are present in the list major financial players such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, American Bankers Association, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Merryll Lynch, AIG, Freddie Mac, KPMG, UBS and Credit Suisse. Among the Defense contractors, you will find Lockeed Martin, Boeing and Northtrop Grumman. Perhaps unsurprisingly tobacco industries such as Altria (parent company for Philip Morris USA) and US Smokeless Tobacco Company are also on the list. Interestingly, the list also includes Koch Industries Inc, involved in refineries, chemicals, fertilizers, etc; ADM, agribusiness leader; and naturally oil companies Chevron and ExxonMobil.

I can’t help but think that all of these names are somewhat linked to something that went wrong, whether we talk of the global financial crisis, the war in Iraq, lies from the tobacco industry, genetically modified organisms or oil related environmental disasters. Now, some people talk of the need to moving toward a ‘responsible capitalism’. Given that money seems to be more important than values, I seriously doubt it is possible.



  • cjg

    This is really interesting – I’m actually surprised by the small number of ‘Energy and Natural Resources’ seats. Do these areas also get represented through Finance and Lobbyist seats? Or isn’t the number of seats representative of the power they hold??


  • jsr

    Good questions indeed.

    According to Mother Jones’ methodology, “All charts in the Who Owns Congress? package are based on federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
    The Congressional seating chart is based on which industry has given the most to each member of Congress over his or her career. This means that members are seated according to the industry that has given a plurality of donations. For example, a member who received 20% of her donations from financial firms and 19% from unions would be seated in the finance, insurance, and real estate bloc.”

    So I guess, the charts could have looked a bit differently indeed. Yet, a major take-away of the article is to remind us that the world of finance and banks have simply much more influential power than even the energy industry…


  • jsr

    By the way, for those interested in understanding further the links between politicians and major industries, I highly encourage reading the article ‘Follow the money’, published in the Monde Diplomatique:

    Recalling some shocking conflicts of interests in countries such as the US (“Half of all US senators become lobbyists when they leave the Senate, often working for the businesses they previously regulated”)or France, the author adds that “in the past 20 years, with former Soviet apparatchiks who turned themselves into oligarchs and Chinese bosses who hold office in the Communist Party, with European members of the parliament, ministers and executives who go through a US-style revolving door to the private sector, and with the Iranian clergy and Pakistani military intoxicated by the world of business – the slide towards corruption has become systemic. It inflects the political life of the planet.” Indeed.


So, what do you think?

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