Surprise! (Not): Trucking industry campaign contributions skew Republican

campaign contributions

Trucking industry campaign contributions generally favor Republicans. But although the numbers can be difficult to parse, some industry observers see growing support for Democratic candidates — even as companies and owner-operators become increasingly disenchanted with both political parties.

Federal law does not allow corporations to donate money directly to candidates or national party committees. But individuals and political action committees (PACs) associated with the trucking industry have contributed around $3.6 million to federal candidates, parties and outside groups in the 2019-2020 campaign cycle, according to Open Secrets, a website that tracks political contributions using data from the Federal Election Commission.

The tally reflects contributions received through Jan. 31, 2020.

So far in the election cycle, Republicans have received the vast majority of the contributions from the trucking industry, netting $2,742,017. Democrats have received $728,311.

Anecdotal reports, however, indicate a political shift may be afoot.

Typically, owner-operators are “notoriously conservative” in both their worldview and politics, said Joe Rajkovacz, director of government affairs for the Western States Trucking Association (WSTA).

However, as with the general population, an increasing number of owner-operators espouse the ideals of progressive candidates, Rajkovacz said — namely those of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.

Rajkovacz guessed around 10%-15% of owner-operators favor Sanders and that overall support of the Democratic Party runs somewhere between 30% and 35%.

Support for Sanders may also reflect growing interest in populist candidates, on the left and the right. The majority of owner-operators support Donald Trump for president, “not necessarily because of his persona,” according to Rajkovacz, but because he is not viewed as a threat to their business.

That is especially true in California, where Democratic support for AB5, the labor law limiting the use of independent contractors, and emissions regulations has cemented truckers’ support for Republican candidates.

Varying political affiliations

So far in the election cycle, Donald Trump has snagged $146,000 from the trucking industry, more than any other national politician. But Sanders is a close second, netting $109,012 in contributions.

Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has brought in $54,750, while Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., brought in $43,495. DeFazio is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. McCarthy is the top Republican leader in the House.

Other data points show the industry is not necessarily a homogenous sector politically.

CenTra Inc. is the second-largest contributor in 2020, donating $263,636, 98% of which went to Republicans. However, clocking in at No. 6 this year, Schneider National (SNDR) affiliates have donated $123,725, with 46.5% going to Democrats and 53.5% to Republicans.

As in previous years, affiliates of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) are the largest donors, with $320,216 going to elections during the current election cycle. Thirty-five percent went to Democrats; 65% to Republicans.

The ATA did not respond to FreightWaves’ requests for comment.

Declining contributions

A clearer trend may be reduced industry contributions overall. Industry campaign donations peaked in 2012, according to Open Secrets, when they totaled around $10 million. The 2014 total decreased to around $7.9 million. In the 2018 cycle, trucking affiliates contributed around $7.2 million.

“The reality is that neither major political party has been particularly good for small-business truckers for a long time,” Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), said in an emailed statement.

Industry campaign contributions
Courtesy: Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets

So far in the election cycle, OOIDA associates have donated $74,000. Although the cycle is not complete, for comparison, in the 2014 cycle, which was not a presidential election year, donations clocked in at $243,499.

The organization’s political contributions are based on the track record, or potential track record, of lawmakers on issues important to OOIDA members, Spencer said. “We focus on issues, not politics — so that’s the metric we use.”

Congress “hasn’t done much” to address small-business trucking issues over the past five years, Spencer said, and “if lawmakers want the support of small-business truckers, they should consider doing something to earn it.”

A nation divided

Wherever industry campaign contributions go, disenchantment with politics tracks with national trends, and so does divisive rhetoric, Rajkovacz said.

“I still  believe it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable — something apparently lost both in our national politics and how we interact with one another.”

Trucking “absolutely reflects that nasty trend,” he said, “as evidenced by the lack of decency and thoughtfulness in the posts we can all read on any trucking Facebook page.”