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General The Unthinkable

2021.01.12 06:19

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January 12, 2021

 
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By David Leonhardt

Good morning. Companies are halting donations to Congress members who backed overturning the election result.

 
 
 
12AMBRIEFING-lede-articleLarge.jpg
Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, after the riot on Wednesday.Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

An ‘unthinkable’ corporate response

Large corporations and their lobbyists usually try to steer clear of messy political fights. Companies prefer to work behind the scenes, giving money to both political parties and quietly influencing tax policy, spending and regulation.

But President Trump’s effort to overturn the result of the presidential election — and the violent attack on Congress by his supporters — has created a dilemma for many companies. A growing number have decided that they are, at least for now, not willing to support members of Congress who backed Trump’s efforts to change the election result and promoted lies about election fraud.

Over the weekend, several large companies — Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Commerce Bancshares — announced a suspension of donations to members of Congress who voted against election certification. Yesterday, the list expanded to Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Airbnb, Mastercard, Verizon and Dow, the chemical company. Hallmark has even asked for its money back from two of the senators who opposed certification, Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall.

“Just a few days ago, this would have been unthinkable,” Judd Legum — the author of the Popular Information newsletter, who has done the best recent reporting on corporate donations — told me.

In the Senate, the temporary ban on donations will also affect Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and a few other members. In the House, the group includes more than half of the Republican caucus, including its two top leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.

“We have to create some level of cost,” Thomas Glocer, a board member at Morgan Stanley and Merck, told The Wall Street Journal. “Money is the key way.”

The National Association of Manufacturers, long one of the more conservative business lobbying groups, has been particularly harsh. It called out Republicans who “cheered on” Trump during his “disgusting” effort to overturn the election, which it said had “inflamed violent anger.” The association added: “This is sedition and should be treated as such.”

Still, many large companies have not announced a change. (And other companies, like Goldman Sachs and Google’s parent, have announced a pause on all political donations — a move that seems designed to prevent public criticism while also not angering politicians who supported attempted election fraud.)

McDonald’s and the tobacco company Altria, which are among the top 20 donors to McCarthy, the House Republican leader, have not announced a halt on donations to any Congress members. Neither has Bank of America (a major donor to Scott), although it said it would “review its decision making.”

The well-connected law firm Squire Patton Boggs has also not announced any policy change. It has donated to Paul Gosar, a House member from Arizona who helped promote the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent, tweeting “#FightForTrump” and “The Time Is Now. Hold the Line.”

What’s the bottom line? I asked Andrew Ross Sorkin, the Times columnist who has spent two decades covering corporate leaders, and he said that the announcements amounted to “temporary defensive moves.” The real question was whether, six months from now, the companies would go back to donating to the politicians who supported overturning a presidential election.

For more, read Andrew’s latest column, which argues for a permanent end to corporate political donations.

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