Trump’s Anti-TPP Stance Defied Big Donors

Keeping to his campaign promise, President Donald Trump officially withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating process after signing an executive order during one of his first weeks in office. Heralded as Obama’s signature trade deal, the TPP created a free-trade zone between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim states – amounting to 40 percent of the world’s economy. Throughout his campaign, Trump denounced the deal as harmful to American manufactures and workers and vowed to abandon the TPP under an “America first” policy. The work that the Obama administration devoted over the last eight years to pass this deal has been swiftly dismantled.

Behind the scenes, powerful lobbying groups were also putting in work. In 2015, 436 organizations filed 1,751 reports that mentioned TPP, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows. In 2016, the TPP had 2,036 mentions from 443 organizations.

While an analysis of Federal Election Committee (FEC) data can shed light on which entities lobbied on the TPP, PACs do not have to disclose how much they spent lobbying on the deal or any other specific issue — only on a group of issues combined. One can, however, look at a slightly cruder metric: how many of an organization’s lobbying reports mentioned TPP, and what share is that of the total number of lobbying reports filed by the organization?

Companies and their PACs also don’t have to disclose what stance they took on a matter. The good news for a transparent Democracy: some organizations have not been shy about their positions. Automakers, brand-name pharmaceutical companies, labor unions and environmental groups have been especially vocal about their disapproval of the Partnership, while technology and media companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook were enthusiastic supporters.

Where did those who lobbied heavily on TPP put their chips when it came to the presidential race? While secretary of state under Obama, Hillary Clinton praised the deal, though she promptly flipped her position during the Democratic primaries – quite unlike Trump who strongly opposed the deal from the beginning of his campaign.

One rather large caveat here: most large organizations give to politicians based on a range of issues. While trade policy is enormously important to many large U.S. companies, so is tax policy, defense spending, intellectual property and so on.

There are some interesting connections between 2016 campaign contributors and their chosen candidates’ stances on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One example of this is Altria Group, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and an outspoken opponent of TPP due to the stricter public health policies regulating tobacco in other countries. It spent over $19.6 million lobbying on a range of issues including TPP from 2015 to 2016 and mentioned TPP on 11 reports out of the total 169 reports it filed over the two years. The group contributed almost $18,300 to Clinton and just over $2,700 to Donald Trump. (The CRP data includes contributions totals for companies that include gifts from PACs, as well as from employees individually.)

Like most auto companies, Ford Motor Company opposed the TPP, and spent about $8.9 million in the 2015 and 2016 cycles lobbying on all issues including the trade deal. Ford, too, favored Clinton, though not by as wide a margin: $42,000 for her and more than $13,300 for Trump. General Motors spent $17.6 million lobbying since 2015 and gave more than $79,300 to Clinton and $22,800 to Trump.

On the other hand, the TPP-averse AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., has spent about $10.3 million lobbying on all issues since 2015 and froze Trump out completely, contributing about $30,800 to Clinton during the 2016 cycle.

Big Pharma company Eli Lilly & Co spent over $14.3 million lobbying in 2015 and 2016 overall and gave more than $5,400 to Trump’s campaign and $35,900 to Clinton’s.



Pro-TPP groups also lobbied extensively and had deep ties to the candidates. Microsoft Corp spent about $17.2 million lobbying in 2015 and 2016; the company contributed almost $814,400 to Clinton and just over $34,740 to Trump. Bank of America, which spent over $2.2 million lobbying in 2016 alone, and Morgan Stanley, with $4.9 million lobbying since 2015, were Trump’s largest donors among those that have lobbied on TPP since 2008, contributing about $69,000 and $45,740 respectively to the business mogul’s campaign.



Berkshire Hathaway comes in a close third, with about $42,070 to Trump. Interestingly, Warren Buffett, multibillionaire chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, was an ardent Clinton supporter. Buffett’s company spent $13.3 million lobbying in 2015/2016 combined. Also in the pro-TPP corner are Apple Inc, which spent over $9.1 million lobbying various issues including the TPP and contributed just under $4,600 to Trump in 2016; AT&T Inc, which only reported lobbying on TPP in 2010 and 2011, but donated almost $32,400 to the Trump campaign; and General Electric, which spent $28.8 million lobbying since 2015 and contributed over $26,271 to Trump.


Eight of Trump’s top ten donors that also lobbied the Trans-Pacific Partnership since 2008 were pro-TPP, with two being ambiguous about their stance. This begs the question: does money really buy influence when it comes to President Trump?


This article was completed while the author was an intern at the Center for Responsive Politics. The story was edited by CRP reporters.

About Emily Dalgo

Emily Dalgo is a senior in the School of International Service pursuing a BA in international studies with a focus in justice, ethics, and human rights and a minor in philosophy. Dalgo was a 2016 AU Summer Scholars and Artists Fellow, where she conducted independent research on xenophobia in the 2016 presidential election. She is the 2016-17 Executive Editor of the World Mind.