Corporations shell out $1.2mn in Senate contributions to fast-track TPP

Protesters, many against the so-called fast track trade authority of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, rally outside the hotel where U.S. President Barack Obama is participating in a Democratic National Committee (DNC) event in Portland, Oregon May 7, 2015. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
Records from the Federal Election Commission show corporations have been donating tens of thousands of dollars to Senate campaign coffers, particularly to lawmakers who were undecided over a controversial trade deal involving Pacific Rim countries.

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, the Guardian studied donations from the corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when debate over the trade deal was ramping up.

What the documents showed was that out of a total of nearly $1.2 million given, an average of $17,000 was donated to each of the 65 “yes” votes. Republicans received an average of $19,000 and Democrats received $9,700.

It’s a rare thing for members of Congress to go against the money these days,” Mansur Gidfar, spokesman for the anti-corruption group Represent.Us, told the Guardian. “They know exactly which special interests they need to keep happy if they want to fund their re-election campaigns or secure a future job as a lobbyist.”

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Fast-tracking the TPP means voting to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate a deal without permitting Congress to amend the final document. The Senate first voted to debate Trade Promotion Authority – the fast-track bill – by a 65-33 margin on May 14. On May 21, lawmakers voted 62-37 to bring the debate on TPA to a close and pass the bill.

Little is known about the specifics of the trade deal. According to a draft document leaked by WikiLeaks, the pact would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia, such as the ability to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Besides the United States, the accord would include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Most business interests support the Pacific Rim deal while labor groups have said it will cost American jobs and suppress wages.

Just two days before the fast-track vote, when Obama’s trade deal lacked a filibuster-proof majority, six out of eight Democrats who were on the fence decided to vote in favor of fast-track. Senators Michael Bennett (Colorado), Patty Murray (Washington) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) all received contributions totaling $105,900 combined. Bennett alone received $53,700.

The other Democrats who voted in favor were Dianne Feinstein (California), Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Bill Nelson (Florida), though it’s unclear if they received contributions.

“How can we expect politicians who routinely receive campaign money, lucrative job offers, and lavish gifts from special interests to make impartial decisions that directly affect those same special interests?” Gidfar told the Guardian. “As long as this kind of transparently corrupt behavior remains legal, we won’t have a government that truly represents the people.”

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In comparison, almost 100 percent of Senate Republicans voted for fast-tracking the TPP, with “no” votes from Louisiana and Alaska. Seven of those Republicans are running for re-election in 2016 and received contributions to their campaigns – Senators Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Roy Blunt (Missouri) John McCain (Arizona), Richard Burr (NC), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Tim Scott (SC).

According to the Federal Election Commission documents, most of the donations came from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

The support materialized as Obama’s own supporters, senior economists and activists are lobbying against the trade deal, arguing it will favor big business but harm US jobs, will fail to secure better working conditions for people overseas, and will undermine free speech online.

Activists are planning a “Stop Fast Track March” and Rally on Thursday, near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Organized by Climate and Trade Justice, the march to the Department of Energy is meant to“highlight the ecological destruction and climate impacts associated with secret corporate treaties like TPP and TTIP.”