This article is the first cross-national study of firm behaviour in political finance. It infers motivation by relating the strategies of 960 firms to variations in political competition in three countries over periods of between seven and seventeen years. Pragmatic contributions are a reaction to the policy risk created by majoritarian institutions, while ideological payments reflect party system polarisation. In centrist majoritarian Canada, pragmatism dominated business financing of parties. In consensual, traditionally ideological Germany, a small number of ideologically motivated firms choose to express their preference for the right. In Australia, with its intermediate institutional and polarisation positions, both motivations are present. The Australian combination of a substantial contribution rate and ideological bias gives a substantial advantage to the right. In both Australia and Canada, the logic of pragmatism suggests that public policy has been fragmented and distorted.