FOX19 Investigates: Cincinnati companies making huge political donations

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Some of the biggest companies in America are headquartered in Cincinnati. A FOX19 investigation is showing they are contributing tens of thousands of dollars this election year through their political action committees, better known as PACs.

Taking a political stand can be dangerous for businesspeople at a time when the country is so divided. Just ask the owner of Chick-Fil-A.

But if you spend money on their products and services or shop in their stores, you have a right to know these companies' priorities.

Macy's, for instance, has been donating money through its PAC for decades. What's interesting about Macy's PAC, though, is that they're giving a lot less money than they did in the early 2000's. In fact, a spokesman for Macy's tells FOX19 their latest report to be filed with the Federal Election Commission this month will show a total of fewer than 50 contributions.

Macy's PAC has only donated $14,000 to federal candidates involved in the 2012 election.

But FOX19 discovered some interesting facts about those donations. In both Missouri and Indiana, where two huge races could determine whether Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate, Macy's PAC is taking a stand against the Tea Party candidates.

FEC documents show that last November, Macy's PAC gave $1,000 to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), whose Tea Party-backed opponent recently outraged many across the country by suggesting that only some rapes are "legitimate."

More significantly, in Indiana, Macy's PAC first backed longtime Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) with a $2,000 donation. But after he lost the Republican primary to Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock, Macy's PAC donated $1,000 to the Democrat in the race, Joe Donnelly.

Macy's declined our request for an on-camera interview. But a spokesman says the real issues for the department store chain are reforming federal tax laws and "leveling the playing field between bricks and mortar (stores) and internet retailers" such as While Macy's has to collect city and state sales taxes from you when you buy something in one of their stores, Amazon often doesn't have to unless you live in certain states like Kentucky.

Kroger, the grocery store chain that's also headquartered in downtown Cincinnati, also has a PAC. And information from the Center for Responsive Politics shows it's raising a lot more money this year than usual. Kroger's PAC has brought in nearly $130,000 in donations. That's a 158% increase over what it raised in 2000 and a 63% increase over what it raised in the 2010 election cycle.

But Kroger's PAC hasn't spent nearly that much. The FEC says it's donated $61,600 to federal candidates involved in 2012 races.

The biggest beneficiary of the Kroger PAC for this year's election is the Boehner for Speaker PAC in Washington, which got $10,000. The most recent donation from Kroger's PAC to the Ohio Republican heavyweight's PAC was in May, according to a receipt FOX19 found in FEC documents. Federal government records show Kroger's PAC also donated $3,000 to Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, who's fighting for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

On a side note, while digging through the FEC documents, FOX19 discovered the money donated to Speaker Boehner's PAC is often transferred to his re-election campaign, headquartered in West Chester, or makes its way to state and national Republican groups.

A big player in Cincinnati political spending, of course, is Procter & Gamble. Its PAC spent nearly half a million dollars on 2012 races. But what's interesting is that it's becoming a lot more bi-partisan than in the past.

Information from the Center from Responsive Politics shows that P&G's PAC started out very Republican in the 1990's and early 2000's. But it was almost even in its giving to Democrats and Republicans in 2010. This year, Republicans are getting 56% of Procter & Gamble's PAC money.

FEC documents show P&G's PAC has given $10,000 to Speaker Boehner's re-election campaign fund, the one based in West Chester, including a $5,000 donation in May.

Other Cincinnati-based companies are donating lots of money this year, too.

Fifth Third Bancorp has donated more than $156,000 to political candidates and causes this year. Among the recipients is Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican treasurer challenging Sen. Brown. FEC records indicate the bank's PAC has donated $10,000 to Mandel's campaign, including a $5,000 contribution made in May 2011.

Information from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the bank's political donations are overwhelmingly to Republican candidates.

Fifth Third also made a $20,000 donation to Speaker Boehner's PAC back in June. It had previously donated $5,000 to his PAC in June 2011.

Insurance conglomerate Western and Southern also has a PAC and has donated about $84,000 to political candidates and causes in the 2012 election cycle.

Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics calls American Financial Group a "heavy hitter" when it comes to political contributions and lobbying. Top recipients include Republicans Mitt Romney ($111,600), Josh Mandel ($32,500), and Speaker John Boehner ($30,000). FEC records examined by FOX19 show that co-CEO Carl H. Lindner III is also a big contributor. He donated $10,000 to the Ohio Republican Party in July 2011.

An American Financial Group spokeswoman said Lindner, whose late father was a legendary donor in Republican circles, was not available for an interview about how he decides who should get his donations.

Business executives and their companies' PACs often make donations for something they crave- access. When an issue affecting their industry comes before Congress, they want to make sure influential legislators return their calls or, better yet, invite them and their lobbyists into a member's Capitol Hill office.

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