The Money in Politics Dems Don’t Mind

by Andrew Stiles
Corporations can throw untold millions at immigration reform without complaint.

How do special-interest donors get away with spending upward of $100 million on a cause most Americans oppose?

When that happens, don’t pundits rail against Big Business and the influence of “money in politics”? Liberals redouble their efforts to overturn Citizens United, right?

Not if it’s the immigration debate. In almost any other context, the Left would be up in arms to stop a legislative push backed by “corporations,” “billionaires,” and “special interests” on such a massive scale.

Instead, they boast that “literally everyone supports immigration reform.” More accurately, Representative John Yarmuth (D., Ky.) observed, “There is no money on the other side of the issue. There is nobody out there ready to spend $100 million against this.”

Within the 39 percent minority of Americans who think immigration reform should be a priority in 2014 (compared with roughly 100 percent of political pundits), there is no shortage of powerful players willing to spend millions to make it a reality. Opponents of comprehensive reform have . . . Heritage Action, a handful of tea-party groups, and not much else.

The deep pockets of the coalition backing immigration reform are pretty impressive.

Given the diffuse nature of the groups involved, and the prevalence of undisclosed donations and indirect spending — things that tend to annoy liberals — it’s hard to put a precise number on how much has been spent in support of immigration reform since the idea resurfaced in 2013. The total number is probably well over $100 million.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most prominent institutional backers of the Gang of Eight legislation, spent more than $50 million on lobbying last year. They were joined by the AFL-CIO and SEIU, unlikely allies for the Chamber but similarly profligate when it comes to politics.

Kochophobes and other advocates of campaign-finance reform didn’t protest when top Republican donors, along with individual billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg, launched their own lobbying efforts, or when the CEOs of corporations such as Walmart, Boeing, Microsoft, Disney, Marriott, General Electric, McDonald’s, Hewlett-Packard, Alcoa, and AT&T; the entire Business Roundtable; and even News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch joined those efforts.

Zuckerberg alone has reportedly raised some $50 million from Silicon Valley donors for his FWD.us organization, which was started specifically to lobby for immigration reform and has already spent millions on ads in support of a comprehensive bill. As Politico reported in January, “many of the biggest spenders” backing immigration reform are “wealthy individuals” like Bloomberg and Zuckerberg. Meanwhile, Washington insiders “point to immigration reform as an area where there will be a lot of K Street spending” in 2014. And the same people who cheered when candidate Obama promised to end the influence of “corporate lobbyists” in Washington couldn’t care less.

The media, too, have been largely uninterested in whether these powerful interests might be motivated by anything other than an earnest desire for compassionate treatment of illegal immigrants. Concerns about the big companies urging Congress to pass immigration reform even as they lay off thousands of employees have, for the most part, been dismissed by Thought Leaders as irrelevant to the immigration debate.  

The very same companies supporting immigration reform are routinely denounced by liberals as profit-mad monsters for opposing things like a minimum-raise increase. But not, apparently, for backing a bill that the Congressional Budget Office predicts would reduce wages over the next decade as millions of low-skilled immigrants arrive to compete for jobs. Instead, the coverage has been far more credulous, along the lines of this NBC report: “Zuckerberg told the lawmakers the donors gave not because of reasons related to the high-tech industry, ‘they gave for humanitarian reasons,’ [Representative] Yarmuth said.”

Liberals complain that “corporations have hijacked our politics.” Except when they agree with you, in which case they are afforded the same treatment as wealthy Democratic donors — people who, according to the Washington Post, “see their donations more in the spirit of philanthropy than investment.”

As long as there is a sea of corporate money backing immigration reform, those on the left are reluctant to resume complaining, in the words of candidate Obama his public-financing pledge in the 2008 election, that our “system is broken.”

They’re saving it for when the Koch brothers (unabashed supporters of immigration reform, by the way) buy the election in 2014.

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.