The Darden social media and PR machinery quickly went into action to say, essentially, the company’s largesse ends with unlimited breadsticks.
“We don’t know where this information came from, but it is incorrect,” Olive Garden tweeted late Sunday. “Our company does not donate to presidential candidates.”
On Monday, Olive Garden’s Twitter team basically went into cut-and-paste mode. It used the same statement to reply to myriad people who keep repeating the same seemingly baseless rumor.
A quick search on OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics database that tracks campaign contributions, shows that neither Darden nor its employees have made donations for the 2020 campaign. But in the 2016 elections, OpenSecrets shows that Darden Restaurants “PACs” contributed $101,000 to candidates. An additional $30,969 came from Darden employees.
At least six contributions went to presidential candidates in 2016, though it’s not clear whether those contributions came from employees or a Darden political action committee. For what it’s worth, the candidate with the most cash from Darden employees and/or PACs was Hillary Clinton with $8,407. Then-candidate Donald Trump received $886.
Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for Darden, pointed out the language at the top of the OpenSecrets.org page, which reads: “The organization itself did not donate, rather the money came from the organization’s PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate family members.”
Corporations are prohibited from donating to campaigns, according to the Federal Election Commission.
At the same time, Jeffers said that Darden’s lone political action committee was dissolved in 2015, ahead of the last presidential election. That would appear to be true, based on OpenSecrets.org data. There were no Darden PAC contributions during the 2018 midterm elections.
The spokesman said Darden employs 185,000 people. By law, both political campaigns and PACs must provide the name, address, occupation and employer for donors who contribute more than $200.
“It stands to reason that there are employees who have given political donations on both sides of the aisle,” Jeffers said.
As the 2020 election heats up, fast-food companies have come increasingly under attack for alleged donations to the Trump reelection bid, even though reporters continue to point out that individual donations from employees of a company do not necessarily represent any political viewpoint of the company itself.
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