When it comes to overall contributions, most companies donate almost exclusively to Republicans, with a couple exceptions. Neither Chipotle Mexican Grill nor Starbucks, the sole Democrat-leaning organizations on our list, have company PACs. Meanwhile, Dunkin' Brands (the company behind Dunkin' Donuts) is the most balanced company, only favoring Republicans slightly more than Democrats.
Political action committeesallow company executives, stakeholders and their families to pool financial resources and distribute them to political candidates or groups. Typically, a board decides how to distribute that money. The contribution is put in a separate bank account because laws ban corporations from giving money to federal elections directly. All the chains on our list with PACs, according to OpenSecrets's organization profiles, give most of their money to Republicans. Some companies don’t have PACs, which we labeled neutral.
PAC dollars usually end up going to candidates, national committees representing a particular party, or other PACs. Between 2013 and 2014, the Wendy's PAC donated $5,000 to then Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. Wendy's also gave $10,000 to Boehner's leadership PAC, the Freedom Project, which like many leadership PACs, helped the speaker raise and spend money with less limitations than campaign or office funds. Between 2011 and 2012, Yum! Brands, which owns the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut franchises, donated $2,500 to former congressman Eric Cantor's Every Republican is Crucial PAC (ERICPAC), which, according to its website, believed "one path will take us toward an unrecognizable America and the other will return us to our conservative roots."
The charts represent data as reported by OpenSecrets's organization profile summaries as of February 8, 2015.
Sometimes employees make individual contributions to political candidates or groups. When they file these contributions, they also report for whom they work. When it comes to restaurant chains, Democrats get more contributions from individuals than PACs.
But idividual contributions vary, depending on who's donating the money. Some companies, like Wendy's and McDonald's, had employees giving more than $100,000, collectively. Individual contributions from DineEquity, the company behind Applebee's and IHOP, only totaled $750 in 2012. Of that amount, $500 went to then incumbent-president Barack Obama, and $250 went to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Chief executives are at the top of the food chain in restaurant companies, making all sorts of decisions about company values and direction. Some corporate honchos come under fire for their personal political views, especially when those views interfere with company dealings. In 2012, people called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A after its Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raised eyebrows when he encouraged his employees to talk about racial issues with customers by writing "Race Together" on coffee cups in early 2015.
Here are the political leanings of food chains based on CEO political contributions between 2011 and 2014 (the data represents the contributions of the acting CEO at the time). Several CEOs on our list donated during the 2012 race between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. The CEOs at Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) gave more than $12,000 to Romney. Dunkin' Brands and Bloomin' Brands (Outback Steakhouse) CEOs donated $7,500 to Barack Obama.