GOP election objectors rake in corporate cash
The nation’s biggest companies have steadily ramped up their donations to GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying the 2020 election results, largely ending the giving freeze instituted following the Capitol riot.
Less than a year after the Jan. 6 attack, PACs affiliated with Fortune 500 companies and their trade groups have contributed $6.8 million to the 147 Republicans who objected, according to a new analysis of campaign finance records from liberal watchdog group Accountable.US.
Every major corporation paused PAC giving after the insurrection, prompting such donations to disappear entirely in January and total just $28,000 in February. Those same corporate PACs quietly resumed and later increased their political giving, doling out a total of $2.3 million to GOP election objectors between September and October, the most recent months on record.
Corporate America expressed concern about the state of U.S. democracy after supporters of former President Trump attempted to overturn the election results. But companies have signaled they don’t want to lose influence with the GOP, which is broadly favored to win back control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.
“Corporations have shown they care more about cultivating political influence than maintaining a healthy democracy for their customers, employers and shareholders,” said Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig.
The Credit Union National Association is the top PAC donor to the election objectors, shelling out nearly $177,000. The American Bankers Association, which represents industry giants such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, is second, with nearly $166,000 in donations.
General Dynamics — which contributed roughly $162,000 to more than 50 GOP objectors — is the top donor among Fortune 500 corporations, followed by fellow defense contractors Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as well as shipping giant UPS.
Other companies have resumed their PAC donations for the first time in recent months, including UnitedHealth Group, which gave a combined $50,000 to a dozen Republican objectors in October through its PAC, Federal Election Commission records show.
Some advocates said they were disappointed but not entirely surprised by the steady uptick in donations to lawmakers who attempted to override the 2020 election. Still, they said they hoped corporate America would push to leverage its financial power to rebuke the objectors.
“For a few weeks there, just after Jan. 6, there was this moment of clarity and a recognition that this is really dangerous both in the short and long term,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University who specializes in campaign finance law. “But I feel that a lot of the corporate PAC leaders just slid back to business as usual.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are the top recipients of corporate PAC cash among the 147 Republicans, taking in nearly $255,000 and $202,000 respectively.
Reps. Sam Graves (Mo.), Glenn Thompson (Pa.), Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.) and Vicky Hartzler (Mo.), the top Republicans on key congressional committees or subcommittees, also rank among major GOP recipients.
Thompson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, received the most PAC money from farms, ranches, cooperatives and their trade groups. Defense contractors favored Hartzler, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, which controls lucrative contracts for fighter jets and military vehicles.
The surge in PAC donations in recent months, which came as Congress debated crucial government funding legislation — including the annual defense bill — is a reversal from earlier this year.
More than 80 percent of corporate PACs paused their donations entirely after the insurrection, and 47 percent changed their candidate contribution criteria after the attack, according to a recent report from the Public Affairs Council that surveyed corporate PAC managers.
The same survey found that just 23 percent of corporate PACs are still pausing all donations, while even fewer, 13 percent, have continued to cut off PAC donations to the 147 Republicans.
Top corporate donors did not provide comment when asked about the renewed donations.
Many corporate PAC managers are no longer deciding whether to donate to a lawmaker solely based on their vote to object to the election results, according to Tori Ellington, manager of PAC and grassroots at the Public Affairs Council.
“A lot of PACs added in a contribution criteria clause about a commitment to democratic values and a democratic process, so they might be reevaluating a member not just on their Jan. 6 vote, but on broader actions and statements they have taken or made,” Ellington said.
That shift is driven by the reality that nearly two-thirds of House Republicans objected to the election results. Corporate PACs regularly make donations to incumbents in both parties, and some even have bylaws mandating that they contribute a nearly even split to Democrats and Republicans, making it difficult for them to freeze donations to all GOP objectors.
“It definitely presented a challenge for PAC managers,” Ellington said. “PACs strive to be bipartisan and they want their giving to be balanced, so they are deciding on a case-by-case basis.”
Another key factor is the 2022 midterms, which could elevate many of the Republicans to committee chairmanships and deliver the Speaker’s gavel to McCarthy. The GOP is consistently beating Democrats in early polls, with a recent CNBC poll giving Republicans a 10-point advantage over Democrats in a generic congressional ballot.
Recent documents obtained by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack reveal that the Trump White House considered a range of options to undo President Biden’s electoral win, including declaring a national security emergency and having then-Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from states that Biden won.
Corporate PACs have largely stayed away from a small number of Republican lawmakers who have continued to falsely claim that the election was stolen from Trump.
No Fortune 500 company PACs donated to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has said that Trump won the 2020 election “by a landslide” and argued prior to the insurrection that “this is our 1776 moment.”
However, several corporate PACs, including those affiliated with General Dynamics, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, donated to Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who wrote in a Jan. 6 opinion piece that Trump was unfairly denied a second term.
Only a small handful of companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, Google and Microsoft, have stuck with their pledge to cut off donations to the 147 Republicans. However, many of those firms’ PACs have bankrolled party committees or leadership PACs that provide financial support to those lawmakers.