Greg Nash

Democrats are seizing on the fallout from donors distancing themselves from Republicans, with lawmakers and advocacy groups saying it’s a rare opportunity to change fundraising rules and the influence corporations have on campaigns.

Progressives are ramping up calls to permanently eliminate corporate PAC contributions, while moderate Democrats see an opening to win over business groups and leaders who have traditionally thrown much of their support behind Republicans.

Major corporate donors are freezing their PACs and reassessing their giving strategies, while others say they won’t give any money to the 147 Republicans who voted to challenge the 2020 election results in Arizona or Pennsylvania last week, just hours after the deadly attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

But some critics of campaign financing want those freezes to become permanent. 

“A temporary suspension of contributions is not enough,” said Mike Tanglis, a research director at the progressive watchdog group Public Citizen. “These corporations cannot simply wait for the dust to settle and then resume business as usual. Our democracy may not survive the next insurrection.”

Public Citizen this week called on all corporations and trade groups to shutter their political spending operations and permanently end their PACs.

End Citizens United, a group that advocates overturning the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that unleashed corporate campaign spending, said corporations shouldn’t fund politicians with no regard for the “harmful rhetoric those politicians spew” in light of last week’s riots at the Capitol.

“Actions have consequences, and we saw the consequences of those donations play out tragically last week as a majority of Republicans still voted to overturn the will of the people after the Capitol was attacked by domestic terrorists,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United.

Democrats in Congress have also worked to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Their most recent push was in March, when the House passed H.R. 1, a wide-ranging bill that includes proposals for electoral reforms and more campaign finance transparency. The measure was not taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

Other progressive groups are ramping up their pressure campaigns to get more major corporations to end all political donations to the 147 Republicans, who include top lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the renewed debate over corporate PACs is also shedding a light on the dangers of dark money — funding to influence policy from an undisclosed source, allowing corporate donors to sidestep public scrutiny.

“There is a well-developed, coordinated dark-money operation that has been active for years in climate denial, court capture, and political funding for the Republican Party. It is deeply undemocratic and ultimately dangerous, and it will be a top priority for Democrats to assure that control of government rests in the hands of the American people, where the Constitution puts it, and not in the hands of a few secretive dark-money donors,” Whitehouse said in a statement to The Hill.

Other Democrats, however, see the recent funding crisis with the GOP as an opportunity to foster stronger ties with the business community rather than overhaul campaign finance laws.

Kristin Brackemyre, director of PAC and government relations at the nonpartisan Public Affairs Council, said the corporate backlash against Republicans could be an opening for Democrats.

“Democrats have an opportunity right now to reengage with the business community, and they would be wise to take it,” she said.

Moderate Democrats such as the Blue Dogs and the New Democrat Coalition, which is made up of pro-business Democrats, are seizing on the vulnerability of their GOP counterparts.

“It’s called corporate patriotism. No corporation or PAC should finance terrorists – foreign or domestic – or those who aid and abet them,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), co-chairwoman of the Blue Dog Coalition, tweeted earlier this week.

She later told The Hill that the GOP’s allegiance to President Trump has weakened its standing in the business community.

“The Republican Party has routinely prioritized its allegiance to Donald Trump over the long-term economic prosperity and political stability of this nation, and they will have to reconcile Trumpism in their party for years to come,” she said.

“Democrats have always been the party of opportunity, which is good for both workers and employers. If businesses keep supporting candidates who use disinformation to erode democratic and capitalistic norms, then these businesses are investing in their own demise,” she added. 

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), chairman of the NewDem Action Fund, said that as a party Democrats have always been more dependable when it comes to long-term growth. 

“We don’t believe in a mythology about how the economy works, and we haven’t been sold a big lie about the results of our election,” Schneider said. 

Schneider said he is optimistic that Democrats can take leadership on pro-business and pro-growth policies, especially when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

“With Joe Biden as president and the New Democrat Coalition in a critical leverage position in the House, America is going to see the kind of reliable and commonsense pro-business and pro-growth policies it’s been crying out for the last four years. We’re going to tackle the pandemic, modernize our infrastructure and restore American global leadership,” he said.

Some traditional GOP allies are even signaling a willingness to work with both Biden and congressional Democrats, at least on some issues. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful pro-business lobbying entities, voiced its support for Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan unveiled Thursday, an early indication that the business community is ready to work with moderate Democrats such as Biden.

Tags Brad Schneider campaign financing Capitol breach Donald Trump GOP donors Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Political contributions political donations Sheldon Whitehouse Stephanie Murphy
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