This summer, Hillary Clinton unveiled a long list of major business leaders supporting her campaign, including three chief executives of Fortune 500 firms. Since then, more notable CEOs have come on board, some of whom have leaned Republican in the past.
On the other side, Donald Trump has a few notable company executives backing his candidacy, though not as many as might be expected for someone with close ties to the business world.
But does the support from these company chiefs, many of them millionaires many times over, mean anything in this year’s populist election? According to a recent study by three business school professors, the answer is yes — especially if you work for a CEO who makes his political preferences known.
Employees donate nearly three times more money to political candidates that are backed by their CEOs than to candidates their CEOs don’t support. And that effect grows as CEOs become more politically active.
“Overall, our evidence indicates that CEOs are a political force, with potentially important implications for firms they manage and for the nature of democracy,” the study concluded.
That’s good news for Clinton. The CEOs of nine Fortune 500 companies have formally endorsed her, while three others — Apple CEO Tim Cook, Disney CEO Bob Iger and DISH Network CEO Ergen — have thrown fundraisers on her behalf. Employees at those companies have contributed more than $1.5 million directly to her campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign donations of $200 or more.
Trump’s business connections haven’t been nearly as lucrative. Only one Fortune 500 CEO is tepidly backing Trump: Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands, which owns casinos and resorts. Adelson recently promised to contribute $5 million to Trump.
But that hasn’t translated into dollars for Trump. Instead, almost $1.1 million in individual contributions from Las Vegas Sands employees went to various Republican Party committees, not the presidential campaign.
The study also noted that employees seemed to change their political leanings to match an incoming CEO, rather than sticking with the views of the departing CEO. That means that the dozen of former big-name CEOs supporting Clinton and the four backing Trump have little influence on what their one-time employees do, either in the voting booth or at fundraisers.
But the study didn’t test how other C-suite executives could affect employees’ political contributions or votes. For instance, Carl Icahn — the founder, majority shareholder and chairman of Icahn Enterprises, but not the company CEO — has officially endorsed Trump, but OpenSecrets has no entry for the company or donations from its employees. The total contributions to Trump from Icahn’s hedge fund, Icahn Associates, is a paltry $350.
Clinton has several high-profile founders, chairmen and other chief officers backing her. Three senior execs at Facebook (including COO Sheryl Sandberg), two at Alphabet (Google’s parent company), two at Qualcomm and one each at four other Fortune 500 firms are supporting the former secretary of state. Individual contributions from those companies total more than $1 million.
More CEOs could declare “I’m With Her” or “Make America Great Again” before November, with Clinton having the likely advantage. A Fortune survey in June found that 58 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs plan to vote for her in November, compared to 42 percent for Trump, whose stands on trade and immigration troubled the execs.