Presidential candidates typically don't start public feuds with multinational corporations, but Bernie Sanders is not a typical presidential candidate. In a Monday interview with the New York Daily News, he cited corporate behemoth General Electric as one of the companies that — through its "greed," "selfishness" and outsourcing of American jobs — is "destroying the moral fabric of this country."
Sanders and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt have been sniping at each other in the media ever since. The Washington Post ran an op-ed from Immelt on Tuesday that defended the company's job creation record and dismissed the "cheap shots" from Sanders. Warren Gunnels, policy director for the Sanders campaign, fired back Thursday.
"If the CEO of General Electric wants to know how his company is destroying the fabric of America, he should take a good look in the mirror," Gunnels told CNN.
Exhibit A for Immelt's personal culpability, according to the Sanders campaign, is his leadership role in "a business group lobbying Congress to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." CNN interpreted that accusation as a reference to Immelt's position on the CEO steering committee for Fix the Debt, a bipartisan group of corporate leaders and former elected officials which advocates cutting various social insurance programs in order to reduce the deficit.
But Immelt's political activity doesn't end there, and neither does his company's. Immelt, whom President Barack Obama appointed to lead the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in 2011, has contributed millions of dollars to various political action committees and candidates over the years. And General Electric, through its political committee GEPAC, donates seven figures each election cycle, to both parties — but especially Republicans.
The Center for Responsive Politics found, based on data from the Federal Election Commission, that GEPAC has donated more to Republicans than Democrats in every election cycle since 1990 except for during four: Bill Clinton's first bid for the White House in 1992, Obama's 2008 presidential run and the midterm races of 1994 and 2010.
GEPAC contributions are particularly lopsided so far this cycle, though it's early yet. Republicans have received nearly $620,000 while Democrats have gotten $275,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That said, a few Democrats in the House and Senate have received handsome sums this election season: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland got $7,000, while Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal brought in $5,000 each. Blumenthal represents Connecticut, where General Electric is still headquartered, pending its imminent move to Boston. Schumer, who represents New York, is expected to soon succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
As for Immelt, he's apparently extremely fond of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. In June, FEC filings show he made a $25,000 donation to Security is Strength PAC, a super PAC that supported Graham's now-defunct presidential run. In addition to supporting Graham's presidential bid financially, Immelt agreed to do fundraising work for him.
Immelt has also donated $5,400, the legal maximum, toward re-electing Sen. John McCain this cycle. McCain, like Graham, is widely identified with both the Republican Party's hawkish wing and its relative center on domestic issues. Both of them sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which McCain chairs.
That committee has significant jurisdiction over federal defense contracts. GE receives billions of dollars in such contracts annually.