Corporations seek to rebuild bridges with GOP objectors ahead of midterms
Major U.S. corporations are looking to quietly restore ties with Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 election results following the Jan. 6 insurrection, believing that they cannot afford to burn bridges with the party that is favored to win back the House in the 2022 midterms.
Companies that froze PAC donations to the Republican objectors were met with outrage from GOP leaders, prompting many to reverse or soften their stance. More firms are preparing to resume giving this year, according to lobbyists at corporations and K Street firms.
In total, corporations and trade groups have already made more than $8 million in PAC donations to GOP objectors’ reelection campaigns since last year’s Capitol attack, according to a report released by liberal watchdog group Accountable.US this week.
Another tally from left-leaning watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that companies that initially pledged to pause their PAC donations to the 147 Republicans have since given $2.4 million to those lawmakers’ campaigns and leadership PACs.
Industry giants such as Boeing, General Motors, Raytheon Technologies, Altria Group and UPS rank among the top corporate PAC donors to those Republicans. Most of those checks are going to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is eyeing the Speaker’s office, and House Republicans who would take control of key congressional committees if the GOP wins the lower chamber.
“When Republicans run committees, they will have the power to call the administration up to the Hill, flex their muscle over agency budgets, issue subpoenas, and much more,” said Jonathan Slemrod, a former Senate GOP and Trump administration aide who lobbies for Harbinger Strategies. “Oversight will be very important to the business community when priorities align with Republicans.”
Corporate America often allies itself with Republicans to fight Democratic proposals to regulate private industry and increase taxes on large companies. But Republicans, including McCarthy, have publicly warned that the party won’t be as friendly to corporations that have cut off donations or publicly criticized GOP-led bills to tighten voting restrictions.
“Both parties have become increasingly populist and it presents a challenge for corporations and trades who would like to focus less on partisan politics and more on coming out of the pandemic and growing the economy and shareholder value,” said John Stipicevic, a former top McCarthy aide and lobbyist at the all-Republican lobbying firm CGCN Group.
The CGCN Group and Jeff Miller, a lobbyist with close ties to former President Trump, will hold a high-dollar fundraiser for McCarthy and other influential House Republicans on Jan. 19. The event, which will feature election objectors in line to lead key committees such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), represents an open invitation to corporate donors to rejoin the fray.
Some of the nation’s largest companies, including Comcast, Walmart and Microsoft have stuck with their pledge to freeze donations to election objectors, while hundreds of smaller firms have mostly steered clear of the 147 Republicans.
That’s impacted House Republicans’ PAC fundraising. McCarthy, for example, saw his 2021 haul from corporate PACs fall by 86 percent compared to the same period in the 2020 election cycle, according to nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets.
But even some corporations that have held out this long contemplated a giving restart after Republicans won big in Virginia’s elections. The recent flurry of Democratic retirements sparked renewed warnings from corporate lobbyists that they cannot make inroads with GOP lawmakers if they aren’t authorized to make donations.
“We know the precedent. We see the retirements. We see the same polls everyone else does,” said a lobbyist at a Fortune 500 company that is currently pausing PAC donations to GOP objectors. “Our strategy needs to align with the current political reality that Republicans are almost certainly taking the House in November.”
Some companies, like Google and AT&T, continued to cut off election objectors but made large PAC donations to Republican party committees that support their reelection campaigns. Others asked their executives to personally make their own individual donations. Those moves drew appreciation from GOP leaders but largely flew under the radar.
Just 13 percent of corporate PACs continue to pause donations to the Republican objectors based on their Jan. 6 vote alone, according to a recent survey from the Public Affairs Council. They’re instead taking into account each lawmaker’s actions and public statements on the issue.
K Street lobbyists expect most companies to resume donations to Republican objectors, with the exception of lawmakers who helped plan the Jan. 6 rally on the National Mall or actively spread election lies, such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
That would be a disappointing outcome that would likely encourage further attacks on free and fair elections, Leadership Now Project CEO Daniella Ballou-Aares told The Hill. Her organization is made up of business leaders worried about the future of U.S. democracy.
“If you’re a company that said that objecting to the election results is unacceptable, if you go back on it, that’s a problem. It shows that like with any other commitment, there’s not a real stickiness,” Ballou-Aares said.
“This year is going to be very telling, because a lot of the dollars typically flow in an election year,” she added.
The group is encouraging corporate giants to throw their weight behind Democratic-backed bills to increase voting access with the same vigor that they used to defeat corporate tax increases initially included in Democrats’ social spending and climate bill.
“The bottom line is that it is hard to argue that companies individually and collectively don’t have real influence,” Ballou-Aares said. “It’s bad for business to have democracy floundering. I fully believe that with a concerted effort, business leaders and companies could push back on what we’re seeing.”