A CNBC report has uncovered two companies reportedly used by embattled Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to covertly donate funds to Political Action Committees established to support Republican candidates.
Kotick's political leanings are not a surprise to long-term industry observers (Activision's corporate leadership has many former GOP officials in its ranks), but these revelations shed more light on how Kotick is choosing to spend his money--and reveals donation choices that Kotick apparently did not want to be publicly searchable.
The two companies in question are called 807080A and Norgate LLC. The former LLC has donated a couple hundred thousand dollars to candidates like Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick (R), while the latter has made multiple $500,000 donations to the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee (PAC) that supports GOP Senate candidates across the nation.
A spokesperson for Kotick told CNBC that 807080A is generally used to manage Kotick's investments. He did not provide any explanation for the existence of Norgate LLC.
In US campaign finance law, the Federal Elections Commission regulates how much companies and individuals can donate to individual political campaigns. These caps are meant to prevent corruption of trading donations for political benefits.
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court blasted open the doors of political fundraising in the case Citizens United v. FEC (commonly referred to as Citizens United). Its 5-4 ruling declared that political spending is a form of speech, and corporations can enjoy the protections of the US Constitution's First Amendment. It also meant they would face no limits on political spending.
Supreme Court lead justice John Roberts declared that such spending did not have a "corrupting effect" on politics. Others disagree.
Much of that corporate spending has flowed into the coffers of PACs that advertise and advocate for candidates independently of their original campaigns. Both the Democrat and Republican parties have pushed the edges of that independence in the last decade.
That brings us to Kotick's secret contributions. Because corporations can make political donations that exceed individual contributions, Kotick can expand his political expenditures by forming LLCs and having those LLCs donate to different committees.
While his personal donations (which are also quite large) are visible in public records, these donations had slipped under the radar.
A surface read of the situation doesn't seem to indicate any criminal activity or FEC violations in Kotick's donations. Kotick is of course, a private individual and allowed to support any political cause he pleases. But it is worth knowing that he is contributing "dark money" to races like the Pennsylvania Senate race.
Criticism of the explosion of corporate campaign spending has centered on the allegation that it allows donors to flood political races with money and back candidates without public accountability.
Kotick's donations are relatively small-time when you consider how financial titans like Peter Thiel, the Koch Brothers, George Soros, and others have funneled their cash to ideological ends. But the secrecy does stink. Voters should know that McCormick enjoys the backing of a CEO accused of harassment and enabling misconduct at the company he leads.
It's also tough to take Kotick (and his spokespeople) at his word that he "donates equally to Democratic and Republican candidates" when he chooses to participate in such a system.
Update: Bobby Kotick spokesperson Mark Herr, who initially responded to CNBC's query about Kotick's two companies, provided the following statement via e-mail on Kotick's political donations.
"Over the past five years, Mr. Kotick has contributed roughly the same amount to Democrats and Republicans. His contributions are focused on candidates and causes primarily in support of veterans issues and specifically veterans employment," he wrote.
"His giving and that of the Call of Duty Foundation, which he co-chairs, is with the goal of ensuring all veterans have employment opportunities that reflect the sacrifices they make through their service."