The country’s most Republican company? The makers of Wonder Bread

New York Times News ServiceMay 7, 2014 

The most Republican-leaning company in the country, based on political donations, isn’t Koch Industries. It’s the company that makes Wonder Bread.

The political action committee of Flowers Foods, a Georgia company that produces the pillowy sandwich bread, Tastykakes and Nature’s Own baked goods, has given more than 99 percent of its political contributions since 1979 to Republicans. Only three Democratic congressional candidates have gotten money from its PAC since 1984, and not one in the past 20 years.

The PAC of Koch Industries, the well-known supporter of Republican candidates and conservative causes, has given nearly as much money to Democrats in the past 14 months as Flowers Foods has in more than 30 years.

Most corporations involved in national politics don’t operate this way. Many take the approach often attributed to former NBA star Michael Jordan, who, when asked why he did not endorse a Democratic candidate in his home state of North Carolina, replied that “Republicans buy shoes, too.” (Whether he actually said it is in question.)

The top lopsided corporate giver to the Democrats is Citizens Financial Group’s PAC, but it has given a relatively more modest 77.5 percent of its $1 million in contributions to the party.

Despite its largesse, Flowers keeps a low profile that masks the motives for its one-sided giving. It’s based in Thomasville, a southwestern Georgia city just over the Florida border best known for an annual rose festival and grand antebellum homes.

Langdon S. Flowers, who joined the family business in 1947 and served in several executive positions until retiring in 1985, was a prominent Republican donor and supporter of Ronald Reagan. In 1982, IndustryWeek noted that Flowers had advocated a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget “with messianic zeal.” He died in 2007.

Flowers is the kind of company where employees spend their entire working lives. The former chief executive and current executive chairman, George Deese, has worked there since 1964. Like nearly all of the company’s executives, he has made individual contributions to Republican candidates and committees.

Allen Shiver, the recently appointed chief executive, worked his way up through the company after joining in 1978 as a route salesman. He has given money to only two candidates, John McCain and Saxby Chambliss, the Republican, of course, senator from Georgia. Most of his donations go to the PACs of the American Bakers Association and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said that Flowers Foods and its executives “have some visibility” in the state’s political circles, but he would not describe them as major Georgia power brokers. Republican roots often took hold first in the rural southern portions of the state, he said, even when Georgia was electing Democrats to statewide office.

The company’s website makes no mention of political philosophy or activism - not a surprise because Flowers is a publicly traded company. (The 95-year-old company reported net income in the most recent fiscal year of $230.9 million on sales of $3.75 billion.) Koch Industries, which is a private firm, has set up a site to respond to media reports about its political activity. Flowers did not respond to several attempts to get comment.

Although firms like Flowers that make and sell food products have traditionally favored Republicans over Democrats, that split is typically a 2-to-1 ratio. Flowers is the only food company with a PAC that consistently gives more than $100,000 per election cycle to Republicans and nothing to Democrats.

Donors who list the company as their employer exhibit the same Republican-leaning behavior. They have given a total of less than $5,000 to Democratic federal candidates since the end of the Reagan presidency, compared with at least $509,000 to Republican candidates and committees during that time, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The partisan alignment of individual contributors within industries has been explored by Adam Bonica, an assistant professor at Stanford, who says few corporations are so strongly partisan in either direction. Google, which Bonica points to as having employees who favor Democrats, has roughly split its PAC giving in the current cycle between the two parties and has never veered beyond a 60-40 split for either party since being formed in late 2006.

There are other companies that lean heavily toward Republicans: The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store PAC routinely gives them more than 80 percent of its contributions. The PAC of Phillips International, a financial information publisher, gave a combined $1,100 to just two Democrats between 1994 and 2006, compared with more than $545,000 to Republicans. California-based radio and publishing company Salem Communications, which like Phillips has openly embraced a conservative message, also gives almost nothing to Democrats. Some trade associations, like Associated Builders and Contractors, have long been exclusive donors to Republicans, much the way many labor unions have given almost all of their contributions to Democrats.

But none of those companies have given as much money as Flowers has, and over as long a period of time.

Just one current congressional Democrat, Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia, appears to have received an individual donation from a Flowers employee. Bishop, first elected in 1992, received $500 during that campaign from Robert Crozer, then a Flowers executive, but has not received anything from the company’s PAC or its employees since.

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