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Corporate Sponsorships of Olympics Make Political Investments Look Like a Very Good Deal

If you thought there was a lot of corporate money in politics, you haven’t seen the cash that sponsors the US Olympic games.

The highest-level sponsors of the Olympics, including Samsung (manufacturer of the "official Olympic Games phone"), spend about $100 million for a four-year commitment. (Photo: Samsung Newsroom)

If you thought there was a lot of corporate money in politics, you haven’t seen the amount of cash that goes into sponsoring the US Olympic games.

Eleven multinational corporations each paid the International Olympic Committee an estimated $100 million for a four-year partnership that gives them coveted advertising rights during the global sporting competition. (International Olympics Committee reps won’t say how much a top sponsorship deal costs, but on p. 114 of the IOC’s 2014 annual report, revenue for 2013-2016 is forecast to be $5.5 billion. Sponsorship deals account for 19 percent of that.)

That kind of cash makes the millions these top-tier Olympic backers shell out to lobbyists and candidates seem like chump change — and shows that global brand exposure during one of the most-watched sporting events in the world might be higher priority than influencing US policy and politicians.

Still, one bad decision by Congress or the regulatory agencies can put a severe dent in a company’s business, so most consider the relatively small investments they make in Washington to be well worth it. (A “bad decision,” of course, being in the eye of the beholder.) Together, nine of the 11 sponsors have spent approximately $22.4 million on lobbying so far this year, around what one year of the Olympic marketing agreement costs per company. (OpenSecrets does not have data for Atos or Omega Watches.)

“Quite frankly, I think they’re getting a bargain when it comes to their public policy impact and how much money they spend lobbying,” said Steven Billet, the director of the legislative affairs master’s program at George Washington University. “It also can be a big gamble on the part of any company to be associated with the Olympics. What if it isn’t the uplifting event that we always hope we will have and you’re the main sponsor behind that negative image?”

The US Olympic Committee and the nonprofit subsidiary US Anti-Doping Agency have done some lobbying of their own, spending $120,000 so far on issues ranging from athlete visas and human rights issues in Russia to broadcasting and taxes on athlete medals.

As for campaign contributions, employees from these corporate sponsors combined have spent an estimated $1.5 million in federal races so far in the 2016 election cycle. Fun fact: Hillary Clinton was one of the top recipients of campaign cash from all of the sponsors. Another $4.8 million came through seven company PACs, a majority of which went to Republican contenders.

Check out what these Rio summer games sponsors are paying attention to in DC or who their employees want elected.

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Dow Chemical
Dow Chemical topped the list in lobbying spending with $7.7 million in the first half of this year, trying to influence government evaluations of chemicals, food labeling and Clean Air Act amendments, among others.

The chemical giant’s employees and PAC cared less about contributions, giving more than $900,000 to candidates, parties and other committees so far in the 2015-16 election cycle. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) received $36,000, Hillary Clinton almost $16,000 and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) $15,000.

Coca-Cola Co. has supported the Olympics dating back to the 1928 Amsterdam games, making it the longest-standing partner of the games. The beverage behemoth has laid out $4.5 million for lobbying this year, on track to hit the $8.6 million it spent in 2015. Coke has weighed in on bills dealing with bioengineered food labeling, state income tax and restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt.

On the campaign front, employees and PACs have donated over$1 million so far this cycle, with the top candidate recipients including presidential contenders Clinton ($87,100), Jeb Bush ($24,400) and Ben Carson ($22,000).

The tire and rubber producer Bridgestone/Firestone Americas has spent $491,000 this year, its lobbying spanning a topical range that includes car part patent infringement, highway construction, and a bill to end modern slavery and human trafficking.

The company’s PAC has contributed over $50,000 to the committees of politicians such as Rep. Marcia Fudge(D-OH) with $5,000, Clinton with $2,900 and Rep.Diane Black (R-TN) with $2,500. Employees have hung back on their contributions.

General Electric
General Electric has spent a sliver of what it has in past years on lobbying, $3.7 million for six months compared to its 2015 total of $21.7 million. The multinational conglomerate focused its efforts on bills dealing with energy efficiency, highway and transportation funding and trade secrets.

In this year’s election spending, employees and GE’s PAC has given $2.8 million, with the top candidates being DemocratsClinton ($129,217), New York Sen.Charles Schumer ($41,000) and Clinton’s rival in the presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders($37,650).

The fast food chain McDonald’s Corp. has spent $1.8 million in 2016 on issues such as restaurant and retail property, bioengineered food labeling and establishing an E-Verify system to ensure employees are legally eligible to work in the US

Workers and McDonald’s PAC have given more than $550,000 in campaign contributions this cycle; leading recipients have been Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) with $21,000,Clinton with $20,000 and Senate contender Andrea Zopp (D-IL) with almost $9,600.

Panasonic has invested $270,000 on legislative efforts covering grants to fund police body cameras, expedited visas for religious groups in the Middle East and classifying Oregon lands as Native American reservations, among others. All of the $1,000 of recorded employee contributions went to Hillary Clinton. It’s worth noting that Panasonic is foreign-owned and foreign nationals cannot contribute in US elections, so this count is from employees who do live in the US.

Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble put $1.8 million into lobbying on bills dealing with the types of products they produce, including liquid detergent safety standards, chemical and makeup product regulation and banning cosmetics testing on animals.

Employees and PACs donated $478,000 to campaigns, the top recipients including Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) with $38,000, Clinton with $28,000 and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) with $16,000.

The Samsung Group has spent $690,000 lobbying, mainly on patent infringement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and US-Korea relations. The Korea-based electronics company’s employees have contributed $5,900 to candidates: $2,900 has gone to Sanders, $1,700 to Clinton and $525 to Senate hopeful Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

The credit card company Visa Inc.’s $1.5 million invested in lobbying thus far in 2016 has gone toward making its views known on bills relating to data security, grants for start-up space in colleges and health savings accounts. On the election front, employees and PACs have donated almost $600,000, the biggest chunks handed out to Schumer ($48,000), Clinton ($25,000) and Sanders ($12,000).

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