Capitol riot prompted dozens of companies to end political donations

The January attack on the United States Capitol had a bigger than expected impact on corporate political donations, new campaign finance documents show.

Why is this important: The immediate and intense political fallout from the insurgency prompted dozens of companies to announce a pause or end to political donations. New figures suggest an even greater chilling effect, with companies that had remained publicly silent also forgoing donations.

  • Corporate PAC for certain companies that did not advertise after January. 6 changes to their political donations — such as Sysco, Assurant, Citizens Financial and Pioneer Natural Resources — didn’t give federal candidates a dime in the first two months of the year.
  • All four have donated to at least one political candidate in the first two months of the 2020 election cycle.

Other companies that have announced internal reviews seem to be on the sidelines.

  • United Airlines, CVS and Chevron have announced that they will reassess these policies. None donated to a federal political candidate in January or February.

Companies that have advertised changes to their political donation policies appear to hold true.

  • The Corporate PAC for the financial services company Charles Schwab fully dissolved this week, after the company announced it would be scrapping its political donations program. PAC donated its remaining funds, nearly $150,000, to charity.
  • Companies that said they would suspend all political donations – including McDonald’s, General Motors and BAE Systems – said they followed suit.

Even companies that have sworn donations only to members of Congress who opposed certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory seem to go even further.

  • Mastercard and Walgreens both reported zero federal political contributions in January and February, significant declines from their donations in the first two months of 2019.
  • Eli Lily donated $30,000 in February to the campaign arms of the House of Democrats and the Senate, but none to the equivalent Republican groups – a departure from bipartisan donation during the equivalent periods past election cycles.

What they say : “I really think (the Jan. 6 attack) will have a long-term impact” on political donations, said Kristin Brackemyre, director of the political action committee and government relations at the Public Affairs Council.

  • “Organizations are much more aware that every contribution they make, they have to be really thoughtful and … have to assess whether it might be controversial and who it would be controversial for,” Brackemyre said.

Yes, but: Not all American companies have been so reluctant to re-engage. The US Chamber of Commerce recently announced that it would not exclude members of Congress simply because they voted against certification of the elections.

  • Corporate PACs waiving donations have also not been the moderating force that many were hoping for. In fact, they could have the opposite effect, encouraging fringe donors.
  • Incendiary Republicans such as Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) also found that any loss in contributions they might have faced was supplanted by a growth in grassroots support.

The bottom line: The Jan. 6 attack not only turned many big corporations against some prominent GOP lawmakers; it showed just how toxic American politics is right now.

  • This forces companies to balance the possibility of controversy with their immediate goals in Washington.
  • “Overall, I think corporate America wants to engage politically,” Brackemyre said. “They just want to make sure they do it responsibly and tactfully.”