I’ve Got the Data to Show Why Joe Biden Loves Snickers Bars
Federal political giving patterns of Halloween candy makers
As Halloween nears and Congress remains spooky as ever, it’s a perfect time to investigate the political donation patterns of the top US candy makers. Warning: there are things will scare people from all political persuasions — your favorite candy makers might support some of your most feared politicians! There are sweet and sour partisan patterns across the candy spectrum.
To look into political giving this Halloween, I went to one of the best resources for following federal campaign and lobbying money: Opensecrets.org. I downloaded the donation records for the 2020 political cycle of the companies and employees of those companies that own or make the top sold candies in the US. When individuals donate to political campaigns they are asked a set of questions, one of which is their occupation and employer. Opensecrets.org uses this FEC reported data to make profiles of industries and companies alongside individual donation records.
Some brands such as Clif Bar! and Kind Bars are among the list of big candy brands, but I don’t include them in the Halloween round up. Though these sweet and chocolate-y treats masquerading as “health” food are considered candy by Candy Industry Magazine, I don’t know anyone who would be happy to get them in a Halloween basket.
Mars-Wrigley, headquartered in Chicago, IL, has the highest net sales of candy in the US and makes two of my favorite chocolate Halloween candies, Snickers and Twix. Their candy universe also includes Starbursts, Skittles, and a host of gum brands such as Wrigley’s Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicy Fruit and Eclipse and Altoids mints.
Mars-Wrigley was also the company that made the greatest number of political donations in 2020, coming in with $200,985 to candidates from company-employees. Unsurprisingly the top federal candidate was Joe Biden with $57,600, Bernie Sanders was second $11,164, and in third was Jaime Harrison with $6,233, a Senate candidate from South Carolina who lost to incumbent Lindsey Graham in the general election.
Also headquartered in Illinois is the next biggest candy seller, Mondelez International which owns chocolate brands Cadbury, Milka, Toblerone and one of my candy favorites, Sour Patch Kids. They also produce Trident and Stride gum brands.
Mondelez International had a share of individual and corporate giving with individuals accounting for 65% of the total $177,874 spent in the 2020 cycle. Among individuals the greatest number of donor dollars went to Joe Biden ($26,790), then Donald Trump ($11,453) followed by Bernie Sanders ($5,310) and then again candidate Jaime Harrison ($3,100). Corporate political donations favored home state senator Dick Durbin($5,000) and then Bob Menendez of New Jersey ($4,500).
The third biggest candy seller is Hershey’s headquartered in Hershey, PA. This chocolate giant is best known for its eponymous Bars and Kisses, but Hershey also owns many of the top rated Halloween chocolates and candy brands such as Reese’s, KitKats, and Heath bars.
Hershey too has a combination of individual and corporate political giving, with individuals making up 64% of the total $109,277 spent in 2020. On the individual side, Joe Biden again tops the list, with local Democratic House candidate hopeful Tom Brier in second ($8,775). Brier lost in the primary to Eugene DePasquale who went on to lose in the general election to Republican incumbent Scott Perry. On the corporate side, home state Republican Senator Pat Toomey received the most donations ($7,500) followed by neighboring Republican representative, Lloyd Smucker ($5,000).
The fourth and final big player in the Halloween candy market is Ferrero North America headquartered in both Parsippany, NJ and Chicago, IL. Ferrero owns another big set of Halloween chocolate brands including Butterfinger, Crunch, and Baby Ruth alongside the holiday favorite Ferrero Rocher.
In 2020 Ferrero and employees have no recorded political donations. In 2018 Nestle was acquired by Ferrero and in previous years there was more political giving activity among those suites of brands, but in the most recently years there are no recorded, direct federal political donations.
This top selling list is decently comprehensive of the Halloween candy market, but there two of my personal favorites were left out: Jelly Belly and Tootsie Rolls. Jelly Belly gave $99,539 and Tootsie Roll gave only $2,218 all of which came from individuals rather than the corporations themselves. Nearly all of the Tootsie Roll dollars went to Democrats and all but 2% of the Jelly Belly money went to Republicans. I added these two to the bigger list and created a breakdown of how much money went to Democrats and liberal candidates and causes (and Bernie Sanders) versus Republicans and conservative candidates and causes.
For all but Jelly Belly, the candy makers tended to give a majority of their political donations to Democrats. When individual and corporate giving is broken into parts, individuals from these companies gave greater shares to Democrats and thought corporate giving leaned left as well, the margins were closer.
So who is Candy King? Which federal politicians got the most sugar from the candy companies?
Joe Biden finished first by an impressive margin. And part of this is likely due to him originally hailing from Pennsylvania, one of the most important candy making states. Mars-Wrigley and Hershey both donated to him as well as a set of other candidates vying for office in PA. Other presidential candidates and the unsuccessful Senate incumbents of Georgia also received top amounts from the candy makers. Jaime Harrison is the odd person out, though, as the person who went on to chair the DNC, maybe candy companies had an inkling that it would make sense to sweeten him up even if he lost his election in South Carolina.
So there we have it, candy companies and employees engaged in political giving like many other industries. Mars-Wrigley gave the most and the highest individual recipient from that company was Joe Biden. In October 2019, Biden weighed in on Twitter with his favorite candy, and it looks like he likes the Mars-Wrigley family of chocolates just as much as they like him.