- Truckers adore this man on the right. (Photo: flickr/maassive)
How to explain the overwhelming politicization of transportation? We worry about how Congress is treating the enhancement funds slated for pedestrians and bicyclists, we see Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) suggesting cuts to programs like Capital Bikeshare, and we see President Obama advocating for infrastructure spending amid a fractured set of Senators and representatives. Why do parties express the preferences the way they do? One big explanation is where money goes — and from the transportation sector, the money tilts overwhelmingly in one direction.
By the numbers, the transportation sector overwhelmingly supports Republicans in political campaigns, a fact especially apparent when glancing at donations for the 2012 election cycle. By "transportation sector," I mean a very specific old guard of what transportation means. We're talking about the entrenched, dominant mode in America, the people with money. We're talking the automotive and air transport industries. And specifically, by the numbers of the Center for Responsive Politics and FEC data, we're talking about car dealers and the two big delivery services of UPS and FedEx.
Whom do transportation donors like for the 2012 elections? The two GOP princes of transportation are the presidential nominees Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has received $482,150, and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who has received $477,376. These two men have received by far the biggest donations of any candidate out there. And why not, right? Neither are wild cards in terms of their politics, really. They're safe and staunchly conservative in a traditional, institutional way that would benefit transportation stakeholders, the auto-driven world of gas and highways and infrastructure.
The rest of the list of top recipients is overwhelmingly Republican as well.
Third on the list of 2012 transportation sector donation recipients is House Speaker John Boehner, another loud voice of the GOP, with just over $165,000. Of the top 20 recipients, there are only two Democrats ... and one of those two is Barack Obama, who has received $147,574. No shocker there though. Of course any industry will hedge its bets and offer some money to an incumbent president of whatever party. But that's still less than a third of what two major GOP presidential candidates have received.
None of the other GOP presidential candidates come close to Romney or Perry in the transportation sector's eyes. They're the reliable conservative candidates. There may be buzz about Herman Cain lately but you know what transportation has given him? A measly $15,000. Newt Gingrich has received less than $12,000. Rick Santorum's not much better with his $21,000 or so. Weirdly, the only other two candidates who have received some serious transportation cash don't have a chance of winning anything at this point — Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota took in more than $86,000 (but dropped out of the race) and Ron Paul of Texas has received just under $80,000 (but ultimately remains Ron Paul and an unlikely Republican contender). Overall, the transportation sector has donated more than $16 million to politicians this election cycle, more than 72% of which has gone to Republicans.
And just who's donating the most?
The National Auto Dealers' Association ($810,700). UPS ($738,609). Berkshire Hathaway ($710,169). CSX Corp ($563,056). FedEx Corp ($441,105). Auto makers like Ford and General Motor are included in the list of top 20 donors but tend to donate less rather than more ($243,526 and $142,293, respectively). Of the top 20, none donated to more Democrats than Republicans and 16 of the 20 gave upwards of 60% of donations to Republicans. The Center for Responsive Politics includes a special note, however: "In many cases, the organizations themselves did not donate; rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families." Influence extends in countless other ways, too, of course. The National Automobile Dealers Association spent more than $2 million on lobbying and employed 20 lobbyists in 2011, for instance. UPS employs 31 and spent $3.6 million this year while Ford has 42 and spent more than $5 million.
A narrower study of the numbers will reveal even more telling details. The automotive industry, taken altogether, specifically favors Perry over Romney by around $50,000 so far. Look just at auto manufacturers, however, and the top presidential candidate they support with donations is Obama with a little under $17,000. Truckers and car dealers in particular adore Rick Perry.
That's a whole lot of transportation influence at play in 2012. Don't miss or forget its implications for all of us.