Companies that collectively pour millions of dollars each year into campaigns through employee-funded PACs are registering their worry and anger about last week’s chaos with a reexamination of their role in powering the nation’s fractious politics.
AT&T’s PAC decided Monday to suspend donations to the eight Republican senators and 139 Republican House members who voted against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win, according to a company spokesman. So did Nike.
Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, reached a similar decision, motivated by “the destructive events at the Capitol to undermine a legitimate and fair election.” The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said it would do the same, with the provider of health insurance to more than 100 million people pledging to end contributions “to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy.”
American Express struck a similar note in a memo sent to all employees Monday, halting contributions to the lawmakers who voted “to subvert the presidential election results and disrupt the peaceful transition of power.”
At the same time, tech giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft said they will halt all political donations while they review their giving. Banking giants such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase said they were doing the same, along with Comcast. BlackRock made a similar announcement in a memo to its employees, noting that its decision was spurred by “the horrific events in the nation’s capital.”
Hallmark Cards went even further. The Kansas City-based greeting card company said its PAC was asking Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to return contributions after the Capitol attack. The committee gave $7,000 to Hawley’s campaign and $5,000 to Marshall’s in the past two years. Both senators voted against certifying the electoral college results.
“Hallmark believes the peaceful transition of power is part of the bedrock of our democratic system, and we abhor violence of any kind,” JiaoJiao Shen, a Hallmark public relations official, said in a statement Monday. “The recent actions of Senators Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall do not reflect our company’s values.”
A Hawley representative declined to comment.
Last week’s violence at the Capitol appears to have companies scrambling to respond, as they realize that this is not an ordinary political dispute and the option of sitting on the sidelines grows increasingly unsatisfying.
“These corporations are doing something very new, and something that could potentially alienate an important base for them,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a money-in-politics group. “I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
The decisions could have lasting impact. Dow, a chemical company with 36,000 workers worldwide, said its decision to cut off political donations to the 147 Republican lawmakers would last for an entire election cycle — two years for House members and six years for senators.
Commerce Bank — a holding company with branches in five mostly Midwestern states — said in a statement that its PAC has “suspended all support for officials who have impeded the peaceful transfer of power.” Some of the corporate decisions were first reported by the newsletter Popular Information.
Amazon, whose chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, said in a statement that its PAC was suspending contributions to members of Congress “who voted to override” the presidential election results.
The pace of corporate announcements has picked up in the days since Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol and the vote to certify the presidential election results. What started out as companies and trade groups rushing to register their outrage — with statements ranging from condemnations to direct calls for Trump’s removal from office — has morphed into going after one of the main fuels of political campaigns: money.
But the funds that these politicians might miss out on could be comparatively small compared to their overall haul, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics.
It also appeared possible that even companies that pledged to halt donations to certain Republican politicians could still donate to Republican-controlled outside groups known as super PACs or industry-related PACs, which might direct funds to any politicians it chooses, Krumholz said.
For example, Marriott, in response to a question from The Post, said the company’s contributions “to leadership or industry PACs on occasion is not likely to change as we head into the next election cycle.” But the company will not support an outside PAC if it is overseen by one of the 147 Republicans, according to a Marriott spokesman.
Still, some political operatives doubted that companies would be able to refrain from PAC donations for long.
“The vast majority of these guys will be back at the table,” said a former White House official who departed last year and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “When they see policies that threaten their business, they’ll have to be.”
Others were encouraged by the corporate reactions.
“I’d caution reading too much into it right now, but it will continue to snowball as the companies doing this continue to be applauded for it,” said Rory Cooper, managing director at Purple Strategies, a corporate reputation consulting firm.
“It’s a fantastically, extraordinarily big deal,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a good-government group. She said some politicians supported a vote against election certification as part of a calculation to maintain party support and receive political contributions. “This is adding a counternarrative to that calculation.”
And companies are rushing in — with decisions that are certain to be noticed.
The PACs of tech giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft donated more than $4.2 million over the past two years, according to Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets.
Charles Schwab, after spending nearly $550,000 on PAC contributions in the past two years, said it was halting contributions to all politicians for the rest of this year.
Airbnb said in a statement it was withholding PAC support — money — from the GOP politicians “who voted against the certification of the presidential election results.”
Marriott’s PAC — which is funded by employee donations — gave more than $410,000 in the last election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.
The hotel chain also has a direct business relationship with Trump. It books travel to Trump Turnberry through the Marriott Luxury Collection program.
Marriott’s decision — along with ones such as from Blue Cross Blue Shield — would hurt the fundraising efforts of those Republicans who voted last week against certifying the presidential election results.
More pressure on companies is coming. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, in the coming days will launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign targeting companies that support Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the election, pushing those firms to cease donations to these and other Republicans.
The project will launch broadcast and cable advertising aimed at these companies and their senior leaders. The Lincoln Project will also target advertising for these corporations’ workers, hoping to “destabilize the companies’ operations by fomenting employee rebellions,” said Steve Schmidt, co-founder of the Lincoln Project.
Schmidt declined to comment on the companies the Lincoln Project plans to campaign against.
“Eighty-$90 million was spent by corporate America on political committees … on extremist groups that have destabilized American democracy,” Schmidt said. “After this point, nothing goes back to normal.”
Jena McGregor, Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.