This paper is a response to the paucity of theoretical and empirical research into the political actions undertaken by organisations to influence policymakers' responses to economic and financial crises. By using original, primary data gathered from semi-structured interviews conducted with Brussels-based Government Affairs Managers of multi-national enterprises, it reports the results of inductive, exploratory research into corporate political activity during the 2007–2011 financial crisis. Results suggest that not all firms are in favour of increased regulatory intervention during times of economic upheaval. They also imply that, during recessions, firms are more likely to seek long-term as opposed to short-term relationships with policymakers, they also have a greater propensity to engage in collective political action than individual political action and they use information strategies more frequently than constituency-building and financial-incentive strategies. These results are subsequently used as the basis for a conceptual framework that draws on numerous theoretical traditions to capture the antecedents of firms' political behaviours during economic crises. Given the absence of theoretical and empirical work that actively engages with this issue, the research makes important contributions to the existing literature on corporate political activity. It also has practical implications for corporate political strategists and policymakers. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.