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Why corporations are rethinking political donations

January 13, 2021
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Dear reader:

My first inkling of trouble for Republicans came Sunday with this headline: “Marriott suspends donations to senators who opposed vote result.”

The hotel chain wasn’t alone. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Commerce Bancshares, too, told the website Popular Information that they were suspending donations. Soon the movement ballooned. Some big banks – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup – are pausing all political donations, including to Democrats.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, too, are halting all political donations while they “review their giving.” American Express told employees it’s ending contributions to lawmakers who voted “to subvert the presidential election results and disrupt the peaceful transition of power.” The deadly riot in the Capitol last Wednesday, which delayed but did not prevent the counting of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes, has shaken the nation to its core. Hallmark Cards, which is based in Kansas City, Missouri, has gone so far as to ask Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Roger Marshall of Kansas to return the company’s donations.

There are caveats to these donation “pauses.” Companies can still give to “dark money” groups, whose donors are anonymous. And the money being withheld could be relatively small as a proportion of overall fundraising, says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, in The Washington Post.

“Today’s announcements by Microsoft and Facebook = easy ways to score a positive headline, but not necessarily fundamental change,” Teddy Schleifer of Recode tweeted Monday.

But the larger point holds: Corporate money in politics is going through a rethink, as is the larger, longstanding relationship between the GOP and business. During the 2020 election cycle, for example, the traditionally conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed 20 Democrats for the House.

Last September, the Chamber’s top political strategist, Scott Reed, left the organization. Now, he says, every “executive committee of every political action committee” is studying the issue of donations. “PACs generate their resources from their employees, who are rising up about what happened last week,” Mr. Reed told Politico.

From the viewpoint of politicians themselves, perhaps the most affected is GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. On Monday, he took over as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is charged with electing Republicans to the Senate. Fundraising is a big part of his job, and the GOP is eager to retake control of the chamber in 2022.

But even before Monday, Senator Scott faced calls to resign as NRSC chair. Why? He was one of eight Republican senators last week who objected to the counting of some electoral votes, amid false claims of widespread fraud.

Senator Scott is unlikely to lose his NRSC post. But there’s little doubt GOP fundraising will be tricky in the post-Trump era.

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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