The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After ‘Blackfish,’ SeaWorld hurt financially but keeps up political spending

Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show “Believe” in Orlando on Sept. 3, 2009. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

SeaWorld Entertainment has suffered financially since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” that accused the theme park of mistreating its main attraction — killer whales.

The company last week reported second-quarter losses, its stock plummeted and its Standard & Poor’s credit rating was downgraded. And for the first time publicly, SeaWorld Entertainment attributed its financial woes, at least in part, to the bad publicity from the film.

But even in the face of money trouble, SeaWorld Entertainment is maintaining its political influence. The company’s political action committee is on pace to spend as much, if not more, on campaign contributions this two-year election cycle as it did in 2011 and 2012.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment PAC has given to around 30 Democrats and Republicans in the House and five Senate campaigns: Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

In all, the PAC has spent more than $50,000 on campaign contributions so far this cycle. Last cycle, it spent a total of $53,000 over the two years, according to database and recent FEC filings.

Donors to the PAC are primarily SeaWorld employees.

Still, SeaWorld’s cash hasn’t shielded it from congressional scrutiny. In June, the House passed a bipartisan amendment to an appropriations bill approving $1 million for a scientific study to examine the impact captivity has on marine animals.

“The documentary ‘Blackfish’ spurred a broader public discussion over whether the conditions in which marine mammals, particularly orcas, are held for public display are humane and whether these animals should even be held in captivity,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the amendment. “I have serious concerns about the psychological and physical harm to orcas and other large marine mammals in captivity.”

SeaWorld, which has a park in San Diego, gave money to California’s two U.S. senators, but Schiff and amendment co-sponsor Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) are not beneficiaries of the company’s political donations.

The company has also kept up its lobbying pace, spending $220,000 in the second quarter on, among other issues, “matters relating to study of marine mammals.”