The Political Donations of Restaurant Chains



Is that a ‘blue plate special’ you’re eating? Or could it be a red plate?

In these hyper-partisan times, even restaurants have their own political action committees (PACs).
The companies can’t contribute directly to federal elections so they pool their financial resources in special accounts, combining corporate funds, employee donations, and contributions from vendors, customers, and other stakeholders. Usually the corporate board decides how to distribute it.

The businesses don’t have to list campaign contributions in proxy statements or annual reports. Some, like Chick-Fil-A, are well known for their political leanings, but it’s usually more of a challenge to assess both the political orientation and full extent of their corporate political activities.

Nearly all of the major restaurant chains donate primarily to Republican candidates, committees, and causes. The same is true for the right-leaning National Restaurant Association, the industry’s dominant trade association, as well as most of its 53 state affiliates. Together they represent more than 500,000 restaurant businesses plus supplier companies, faculty and students in hospitality education, and nonprofits like hospitals and health care facilities, schools, prisons, and military food service establishments. With annual spending that’s just south of $100 million, the association maintains 37 in-house lobbyists and supports still more outside lobbyists whose agenda tends to be aimed at blocking legislation favoring paid sick leave, immigration reform, nutrition labeling, and raising the minimum wage.

The reddest of the chains
DineEquity, the parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP, leads the pack contributing 96% of its funding to Republican candidates and causes.
It’s followed by Outback Steakhouses’ parent Bloomin’ Brands and Chick-Fil-A, both at 93%;
Wendy’s and White Castle, each at 91%;
Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) at 90%
Chili’s parent company (Brinker International) at 89%.

Closer to the middle
Dairy Queen goes Republican 72% of the time; 
Panera is at 67% and McDonald’s is at 63%.
While Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, leans 63% toward the GOP, its CEO personally contributes 100% to Democratic candidates and causes;
Dunkin’ Donuts slightly favors Republicans with a 52%/48% split.

Lonely on the left
Of the country’s leading restaurant chains, only Starbucks and Chipotle favor Democratic candidates and causes, Starbucks at 83% and Chipotle at 100%. Unlike their conservative counterparts, neither of these two chains has its own PAC.


One Response to The Political Donations of Restaurant Chains

  1. Melissa says:

    Wow, great reporting!

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