CNN survey shows some of America's biggest companies still grappling with response to deadly US Capitol riot
Posted January 26, 2021 6:02 a.m. EST
CNN — Despite the vocal pledges from some companies to take bold action following the deadly January 6 siege on the US Capitol, many of America's corporate giants are instead taking a wait-and-see approach about their future political giving, a new CNN analysis shows.
And even when the companies vowed to suspend campaign contributions, most declined to say how long their donation boycotts would last.
CNN surveyed the roughly 280 companies in the Fortune 500 that supported the 147 GOP lawmakers who objected to certifying President Joe Biden's win. About 150 responded. Among the findings: Many of the firms that have chosen to suspend campaign donations have taken a broad-brush approach -- freezing contributions across the board, rather than targeting the Republican objectors.
This month's corporate pushback sent shock waves through Washington as powerful trade associations such as the US Chamber of Commerce rebuked Trump's conduct in the hours before the Capitol attack. Brand-name companies, such as Coca-Cola and Marriott, swiftly went public with plans to halt giving by their affiliated political action committees.
Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said that how long the corporate revolt from politicians will last is an open question, particularly since campaign fundraising usually slows in the months after an election.
"Right now, it's quite easy for them to sit back," Krumholz said. "It's hard to imagine this would last through the primaries and general election in 2022."
CNN used Center for Responsive Politics data to examine political action committee contributions from the 500 largest corporations by revenue to the 139 House members and eight senators who raised objections to ratifying the 2020 election results -- a key aim of then-President Donald Trump and his supporters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left five dead.
The analysis found that PACs associated with more than half of the companies -- roughly 280 firms in total -- had contributed $21 million to the 147 objectors.
A total of 153 of those companies responded to CNN's questions about their political giving, representing firms whose PACs have donated $14 million to the 147 lawmakers during the 2020 election cycle.
Among the findings:
120 of the companies said they had decided to pause or end political giving in some form. Twelve said they would not, and 21 said they were reviewing their practices but had not yet decided whether to make any changes. 33 companies said they would single out the 147 objectors, including AT&T and telecom giant Comcast, the two largest PAC contributors to this group of lawmakers. (CNN's parent company, WarnerMedia, is owned by AT&T.)
73 companies said they would halt donations to all federal candidates. That included the third largest PAC donor to the objectors, defense contractor Raytheon Technologies. Raytheon's PAC donated more than $560,000 to federal candidates during the 2020 cycle. In a statement to CNN, Raytheon spokesman Chris Johnson said the pause would allow it to "reflect on the current environment and determine appropriate next steps."
None of the companies that responded to CNN said they had requested refunds from lawmakers. That stands in sharp contrast to the greeting card maker Hallmark, which is not a Fortune 500 firm but made headlines with its request that two of the objectors, Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Roger Marshall of Kansas, return its PAC contributions.
31 companies had specific timetables for how long they would suspend political activity. Four -- General Electric, Texas Instruments, Public Service Enterprise Group and NGR Energy -- told CNN they planned to halt donations to the 147 objectors for the entire 2022 election cycle.
"This is not a decision we made lightly, but is one we believe is important to ensure that our future contributions continue to reflect our company's values and commitment to democracy," General Electric spokeswoman Meghan Thurlow said in a statement to CNN.
Texas Instruments spokeswoman Nicole Bernard told CNN the two-year suspension reflects the company's practice of evaluating candidates on a two-year budget cycle.
At least one firm, Charles Schwab, has opted to shut down its PAC entirely. The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump conservative strategists, had targeted the brokerage firm in a campaign that highlighted corporate donors to Trump or his allies on Capitol Hill.
"In light of a divided political climate and an increase in attacks on those participating in the political process, we believe a clear and apolitical position is in the best interest of our clients, employees, stockholders and the communities in which we operate," Schwab said in a statement.
The swift and public reactions from some big-name corporate interests to the violent insurrection "is significant in the moment," said Bruce Freed, who runs the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in corporate political giving.
"Does the pause lead to a fundamental change or do they go back to business as usual?" Freed asked. "That remains to be seen."
Some liberal watchdog groups are determined to keep the pressure on. End Citizens United recently published a list of firms that had donated at least $10,000 to the eight senators who objected to the election results, and it urged those companies to demand refunds.
"PR statements mean nothing if they're not followed by action," the group's president, Tiffany Muller, said in a statement. "We're watching."
Collectively, business PACs accounted for more than $360 million in federal contributions during the 2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. About 57% of the money flowed to GOP candidates. Corporations cannot donate directly to federal candidates, but their employees and executives fund company-aligned PACs.
PAC donations represent just a fraction of the billions of dollars that companies and other powerful interests spend to influence policy in Washington each year. A political action committee can donate up to $5,000 directly to a federal candidate's campaign per election and an additional $10,000 to that candidate's leadership PAC over a two-year election cycle.
Even so, how companies choose to direct their PAC money sends a powerful message about their values to their customers and workers, said David Rehr, who ran trade groups in Washington and now teaches lobbying and leadership as a professor at George Mason University.
In the aftermath of the riot, companies "want to signal they are on the right side of history," Rehr said. But they also are trying to navigate the fast-moving developments of a new Congress and new administration.
"The waiting buys them a lot of valuable time to assess how this torrent of change may affect their business," Rehr said.