Big political donors such as Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and George Soros have drawn attention mostly because of ideological campaigns to unseat an entire political party or push a particular social agenda. Adelson and the Koch Brothers fund Republicans and advocate limited government, among other things. Soros, a top Democratic donor, lobbies for immigration reform and other social-justice causes. Up till now, most of their donations have been in the form of “soft money” targeted at party committees and so-called super PACs, which can spend large sums advocating on behalf of issues or parties.
The McCutcheon decision, by contrast, will open up new pathways for businesses to pursue narrower issues that might be of interest only to them, through “hard money” donations directly to politicians who write the laws. “That’s much more valuable for donors to use to gain access and influence through donations,” says Krumholz.
Ideological donors can have business interests too, of course: Adelson, for instance, wants Congress to ban online gambling, which competes with his casinos. Koch Industries, which is privately owned by the Koch family, is a conglomerate with major energy holdings subject to federal and state environmental regulations. It’s not clear yet whether the new rules will benefit certain industries over others or prompt a do-little Congress to be more aggressive about passing laws favorable to generous donors. But it’s nearly certain more money will flow to politicians, giving lobbyists more leverage to ask for favors in return.