The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chamber of Commerce declines to rebuke members of Congress who voted to overturn 2020 election

The announcement comes several months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a deadly riot

Razor wire on fencing near the U.S. Capitol this month. (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)
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America’s largest business lobby says it will not pull support for members of Congress based solely on whether they voted against certifying President Biden’s election win in Arizona and Pennsylvania, providing cover for 147 Republican lawmakers who supported former president Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.

In a memo released Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the organization would continue to evaluate the actions of individual members of Congress but would not withhold funds based solely on their vote.

“There is a meaningful difference between a member of Congress who voted no on the question of certifying the votes of certain states and those who engaged and continue to engage in repeated actions that undermine the legitimacy of our elections and institutions,” wrote Ashlee Rich Stephenson, a senior political strategist at the chamber.

Lawmakers who objected to election results have been cut off from 20 of their 30 biggest corporate PAC donors

She later drew a distinction between members of Congress who voted to overturn the election and those whose actions might have been more overt.

“Casting a vote is different than organizing the rally of January 6 or continuing to push debunked conspiracy theories,” Stephenson said. “We will take into consideration actions such as these and future conduct that erodes our Democratic institutions.”

The Chamber’s approach ― it waited months to take a position condemning “debunked conspiracy theories,” while declining to rebuke those who propagated them while Trump was president ― hints at a larger tension within the Republican Party and the business lobby.

Speaking late on Jan. 6, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol “an insurrection incited by the President of the United States.” (Video: The Washington Post)

Business leaders expressed shock and outrage when a mob of self-described Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in a violent riot that killed five people including a police officer. Some of the Republican Party’s most generous donors, including AT&T and Comcast announced they would suspend donations to lawmakers who objected to the election results.

But few of them were willing to say how long the freeze in donations would last or whether it would play into the next election cycle when such a move would be most impactful. And some others, including Lockheed Martin, declined to single out Republicans, opting to halt all donations to both parties.

Longtime Chamber President Tom Donohue, who stepped down last month, was among numerous CEOs who broke with Trump in mid-November, encouraging a transition to the next administration.

In a 24-year tenure as the Chamber’s president, Donohue built the business lobby into a political powerhouse aligned closely with the GOP. But Donohue parted ways with Trump on issues like immigration and international trade, in which the president ran counter to long-standing GOP and corporate sector policies.

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The new president, Suzanne Clark, must now navigate a complex political landscape in which Trump still holds sway with the Chamber’s traditional allies in the GOP.

Stephenson said elected officials should seek ways to “restore trust” in government by moving beyond partisan gridlock.

“We want to encourage, including through our support, members who reach across the aisle, who reinforce critical norms, and who do the hard work of governing,” Stephenson said in the statement.

This story has been updated to clarify that Lockheed Martin halted political donations to members of both parties, not just Republicans.