How Do Corporations Play Politics?: The Fedex Story
76 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2005 Last revised: 22 Jun 2009
United States law extensively regulates corporate participation in the political process. The rationale for this regulation is a concern that corporate political activity, particularly campaign contributions, will corrupt the political process and enable corporations to obtain rents at societal expense. Regulators, the media and the public generally view corporate political activity as illegitimate and distinguish it from operational business decisions. Critics of corporate political activity advocate ever-increasing regulatory restrictions and support their analysis with empirical studies that purport to demonstrate the ability of corporate donors to buy favorable legislation by making political contributions to members of Congress.
This Article challenges the prevailing characterization of corporate political activity as a distortion of the political process. Using a case study methodology, the Article examines the political involvement of one company, FedEx, in a series of regulatory reforms over a forty year period. Drawing upon the business context, the legislative record, campaign finance materials and interest group analysis, the Article demonstrates that political activity has been an integral component of FedEx's business growth and operations. FedEx has successfully used its political influence to shape legislation, and FedEx's political success has, in turn, shaped its overall business strategy. Moreover, in identifying the specific components of FedEx's political activity, the Article highlights the range of mechanisms that corporations use to engage in politics, revealing that the exercise of political influence is far more complex than the purchase of political favors in a spot market.
Regulation is becoming an increasingly important factor for United States businesses. As a result, corporations must integrate political activity into their overall business strategy and must develop and manage their political capital in the same way that they manage other business assets. The FedEx story demonstrates the importance of politics to business and explains the growing investment by corporations in political capital. It further explains how the business world has responded, and will continue to respond, to regulatory restrictions by developing alternative mechanisms for exerting political influence. By understanding how and why corporations participate in politics, policy-makers can better address concerns about the effect of corporate political influence.
Keywords: corporate political activity, campaign finance, political contributions
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