Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Center profiled the top organizations—companies or groups—giving to state political party and caucus committees in 2003 and 2004.

In determining major donors, the Center grouped individual contributors together with the organizations they reported as employers. Where no employer and occupation information was provided, or where an individual reported being self-employed, the Center identified donors through their affiliations with organizations. For example, a donor listed as “XYZ Company” could include contributions directly from the company and from individuals who list XYZ as an employer, along with those individuals’ spouses.

Kerry for President
Web site:

By far, the biggest organizational donor to state parties in 2003-2004 was Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s primary election campaign committee. The committee showered contributions on the crucial states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Iowa, outspending all other donors in all of these states except Michigan. Nonetheless, Kerry ended his unsuccessful presidential bid with more than $14 million still left in his primary election campaign account, a fact that drew a fair amount of criticism from his disappointed supporters. However, there is widespread speculation that Kerry will attempt another presidential run in 2008.

Democratic Governors’ Association
Web site:

People: Bill Richardson, chair—governor of New Mexico; past chairs include Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis and Howard Dean

Places: Founded in 1983, the Democratic Governors’ Association is a political organization independent of the national party, consisting of the Democratic governors of states and territories. The DGA provides strategic and financial support to Democratic gubernatorial candidates throughout the country. The DGA also helps shape the Democratic Party’s national agenda, although not without the occasional scrape with party members in Washington, D.C.

Politics: In 2002, with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 about to take effect, the DGA severed all ties with the Democratic National Committee so it could continue raising soft money. The DGA directed a majority of its contributions in 2003-2004 to Missouri and Washington, both of which featured extremely close gubernatorial races.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) *
Web site:

People: Gerald (Jerry) W. McEntee, international president—named to President Bill Clinton’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Quality and Consumer Protection in the Health Care Industry in 1997

Places: With 1.4 million members and more than 3,500 locals in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, AFSCME is the nation’s largest public service employees union. Most members are either public workers or work for private employers that receive public funding. The organization boasts of its political action operations in Washington, D.C., and state capitals with a contingent of full-time lobbyists, massive computerized phone banks, precinct targeting, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. PEOPLE (Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality), AFSCME’s political action committee, is one of the biggest PACs in the country.

Politics: AFSCME has long been one of the leading contributors to the Democratic Party. They were the first national union to back Bill Clinton when he ran for President in 1992, and union president Gerald McEntee maintained special insider access to Clinton throughout his administration. In August 2000, the Center reported on AFSCME’s extremely close ties to the Democrats and President Clinton as well various scandals involving the union’s leadership, including McEntee (see “Cloud of Corruption Around Democrats’ Union Patron“).

AFSCME keeps close tabs on all matters that directly affect its members as workers, whether it’s a state or locality planning to privatize government services or Congress cutting back on unemployment benefits or workplace regulations. While switching their endorsement from Gov. Howard Dean to Sen. John Kerry, AFSCME stood solidly behind the Democrats in 2004, claiming to have spent $48 million on political activities.

According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state political party campaign finance disclosures, AFSCME made the largest share of its political contributions in 2003-2004 to Democratic party committees in Missouri. That may be because Republican Gov. Matt Blunt campaigned on a promise to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state government employees.

*In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that The Center for Public Integrity accepted contributions from labor unions including AFSCME (and corporations) from 1990 to 1995. Gerald McEntee served on the Center’s board of advisors from 1990 to 1992.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Web site:

People: Andrew L. Stern, president—first elected in 1996, succeeding John Sweeney, who had been elected president of the AFL-CIO; Anna Burger, international secretary-treasurer—delegate to Democratic National Conventions since 1984; Gerald (Gerry) Hudson, International Executive Vice President—worked for the campaigns of Democratic candidates Jesse Jackson for president, New York City Mayor David Dinkins and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo for Governor, served as political director of the New York State Democratic Party in 1996

Places: With more than 1.8 million members and more than 300 local affiliates and state councils, SEIU is the second-largest union in North America and one of the fastest growing. Members work in health care, government service, building trades and industrial sectors.

Politics: SEIU engaged in an aggressive national voter mobilization effort on behalf of the Democrats during the 2004 presidential campaign, with massive phone banks, mail operations and door-to-door canvassing. SEIU was also part of a coalition of liberal organizations that backed a pro-Democratic political group called America Coming Together. Both SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents government service workers, directed the bulk of their state party contributions in the 2003-2004 cycle to three states—Missouri, New York and Washington. Missouri and Washington featured gubernatorial contests between solidly pro- and anti-union candidates.

Neither union made many donations to Republican state committees, with a significant exception in New York. SEIU maintains a large presence in New York, with approximately 350,000 members.

Alticor Inc./Amway/DeVos Family Interests
Web site:

People: Richard (Rich) DeVos, Amway co-founder—former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, member of the Presidential Commission on AIDS (1987-88)

Places: In 1959, Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos founded Amway, today a multibillion dollar personal care and home product direct sales company with operations in more than 80 countries and territories. In 2000, Alticor Inc. was created as the parent company of Amway and its sister companies.

Politics: The DeVos family and their business interests are selective political donors. Their generosity over the years to Republican and conservative causes is well-known. A Center for Public Integrity analysis of state political party campaign finance disclosures during the 2003-2004 cycle shows they gave 100 percent of their money to Republican party committees, almost all of it poured into just two states—Michigan and Florida. Amway’s world headquarters are located in Ada, Michigan, and the DeVos family owns three professional sports franchises in Orlando, Florida, including the Orlando Magic basketball team.

Betsy DeVos, wife of former Alticor president Richard (Dick) DeVos, Jr., is a longtime Michigan GOP activist and served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and finance chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In a 1997 op-ed she wrote for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Betsy DeVos was brutally candid about her views on money in politics: “[M]y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party….I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”

Republican Governors Association
Web site:

People: Kenny Guinn, chair—Nevada Governor

Places: Founded in 1963, the Republican Governors Association helps elect Republican governors around the country and also plays a role in setting the party’s national agenda.

Politics: In September 2002, with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 about to take effect, the RGA officially separated from the Republican National Committee so it could continue raising soft money.

In 2003-2004, the RGA lagged far behind its counterpart, the Democratic Governors’ Association, in contributions to state party committees. The RGA directed the vast majority of its contributions during that cycle to Missouri and Mississippi. Missouri featured a close 2004 open-seat gubernatorial race in which Republican Matt Blunt prevailed. A year earlier in Mississippi, former RNC chairman Haley Barbour defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to become only the second Republican governor in Mississippi since Reconstruction. The Mississippi contest was the most expensive political race in state history. The Democratic Governors’ Association gave nearly $2.3 million directly to Musgrove’s campaign, far more than it gave to the Mississippi Democratic Party.

National Education Association (NEA)
Web site:

People: Reg Weaver, president—appointed to several education policy commissions by Illinois Governor James Thompson; Dennis Van Roekel, vice-president—served on the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century at the request of Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1999; Lily Eskelsen, secretary-treasurer—served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education in 2000; Mike Billirakis, executive committee member—served on the Ohio Governor’s School Accountability Committee

Places: The NEA is the nation’s largest teachers union, with 2.7 million members and an annual budget of more than $267 million. The organization has local affiliates in every state and a network of influence that reaches into every school district in the country.

Politics: The NEA furthers the interests of its education employee members. At the state level, local affiliates lobby for school resources, higher professional standards for teachers and the protection of school employees’ rights. The NEA opposes private school tuition vouchers and the privatization of school services.

In February 2004, Education Secretary Rod Paige stirred up controversy when he called the NEA a “terrorist organization.” Not surprisingly, the NEA gave almost all of its campaign contributions during the 2003-2004 cycle to Democratic party committees. The largest share went to the Democrats in California, although a considerable amount also went to North Carolina—more than double that of any of the remaining states. According to NEA studies, California has the country’s highest public school enrollment in absolute numbers and pays teachers the highest average salary, but each year lags behind the national average in spending per pupil.

Association of Trial Lawyers of America
Web site:

People: Jon Haber, chief executive officer—worked on the presidential campaigns of Edward Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, Richard Gephardt in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and Howard Dean in 2004, counsel and communications director for Sen. Patrick Leahy on the agriculture committee, chief of staff to Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Places: ATLA is the world’s largest trial advocacy bar, with more than 56,000 members and a network of U.S. and Canadian affiliates. The coalition of legal professionals that make up ATLA includes attorneys (mostly personal injury lawyers), law professors, paralegals and law students.

Politics: The core priority of ATLA is to protect plaintiffs’ access to the justice system, especially in cases of personal injury, products liability and medical malpractice. Since moving their headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1977, ATLA has maintained a powerful lobbying presence in the nation’s capital, successfully fighting off most of Congress’ efforts to restrict tort plaintiffs’ access to the courts. Although the organization as a whole leans toward the Democrats, many prominent ATLA members are Republicans, to whom the organization has been surprisingly generous over the years.

Civil litigation reform was a prominent issue in the United States during the 2004 election season, with Republicans in many states campaigning on promises to clamp down on “frivolous lawsuits” and “greedy trial lawyers.” The bulk of ATLA’s contributions in the 2003-2004 cycle went to Democratic party committees, including large totals in Michigan and Missouri, but the organization also made sizeable contributions to Republican parties in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. The U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania featured two candidates favored by trial lawyers—Republican incumbent Arlen Specter and Democratic challenger Joseph Hoeffel. Some Democratic lawyers, concerned about losing Specter’s senior position on the Senate Judiciary Committee, ended up contributing to both candidates.

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations/Committee on Political Education (AFL-CIO/COPE)
Web site:

People: Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president—a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the President’s Initiative on Race and the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer—named by President Bill Clinton to serve on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform

Places: The AFL-CIO is the nation’s largest labor federation, with more than 13 million members and 58 member unions representing virtually every sector of the economy. The AFL-CIO, both on its own and through its federal political action committee, AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education, engages in substantial political activity at all government levels on a broad range of matters that affect workers and working families, such as employment and workplace standards, Social Security, health care, education, international trade and immigration.

Politics: In 1996, the AFL-CIO created a controversial $35 million television ad campaign directed against Republican candidates that turned out to be relatively ineffective. The ads, disguised as voter guides, attacked Republican candidates’ records on issues like education and Medicare. Since then, the AFL-CIO has focused more on grassroots activities such as get-out-the-vote and door-to-door canvassing and registration of union members. The AFL-CIO spread its 2003-2004 state party committee contributions among most of the key battleground states, with Missouri and New York topping the list. Overall, the AFL-CIO gave almost exclusively to the Democrats, except in New York, where they gave to the Republicans twice as much as to the Democrats.

James E. Pederson/The Pederson Group
Web site:

People: James E. Pederson, founder/president/treasurer—chair of the Arizona Democratic Party

Places: The Pederson Group is a Phoenix, Ariz.-based commercial real estate development company founded by Jim Pederson. The company specializes in the development and management of upscale retail shopping centers. Since it began in 1983, the company has developed more than 20 retail projects in Arizona.

Politics: Pederson and his company’s 2003-2004 state party committee contributions went exclusively to the Arizona State Democratic Committee. Arizona was a key battleground state in 2004, with both George Bush and John Kerry courting its large Hispanic population. The state also featured a closely-watched congressional contest between first-term Republican Rep. Rick Renzi and unsuccessful Democratic challenger Paul J. Babbitt, brother of former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.