Hiltzik: Toyota’s political donations don’t serve public interest

Automaker Toyota seems determined to take the adage that “money talks” to extremes.

The company ranks first after January. 6 financial support from members of Congress who voted that day against certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Since then, Toyota has made political contributions to 37 of the 147 senators and representatives whose vote placed them in line with the conspiracy theory promoted by former President Trump that the election was stolen from him. The conspiracy allegation fueled the insurgency at the United States Capitol.

We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely on the basis of their votes on electoral certification.

Toyota Motor North America

Contribution statistics come see us through the activist organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

Its database shows that Toyota contributed more members of what CREW calls the “sedition caucus” than any other major donor. Company contributions to non-election members and their leadership political action committees have totaled $55,000 so far.

Let’s put these contributions into context. The January 6 vote contesting the 2020 election, followed by the insurrection, were among the most serious attacks on American democracy in history.

The business community seemed to recognize its seriousness, at least initially – nearly 200 corporate donors later said they would suspend or end donations to the 147 lawmakers. Toyota was not among those who took this position.

Since then, several companies have given up on their promises. Many have gone back to “business as usual giving,” says Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

It’s essentially a financial analog to claims by some GOP leaders that nothing really bad happened on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 and Republicans’ refusal to support a bipartisan investigation into the events.

What could almost have been worse than Toyota’s contributions themselves was the company’s explanation for its spending.

“Toyota supports nominees based on their stance on issues important to the auto industry and the company,” the company told me in an email response it also sent to other bodies. Press.

“We don’t believe it’s appropriate to judge members of Congress solely on the basis of their votes on election certification,” Toyota said. “Based on our thorough review, we have decided not to give to certain members who, through their statements and actions, undermine the legitimacy of our elections and our institutions.”

Let’s analyze these words. First, Toyota acknowledges that its primary consideration in selecting recipients of its political largesse is whether they support “the auto industry and the business.”

This is not surprising, of course: all political donors are expected to use their money to support their own narrow interests. But it’s a reminder that the interests of the auto industry and Toyota are not synonymous with the public interest. In fact, they are generally inconsistent with the public interest. Tell me again why corporations should be allowed to make political contributions.

Moreover, Toyota doesn’t consider lawmakers’ votes against election certification to be that important. He does not believe that these votes “necessarily undermine the legitimacy of our elections and our institutions”.

What is wrong with this statement is that voting against certification of the elections on January 6 clearly undermined the legitimacy of the election. It was designed undermine the legitimacy of the election.

The congressional vote was a formality; under federal law and historical precedent, a vote against certification was appropriate only when a state had not legally certified its voters list, or when a state had submitted two opposing voters lists.

None of those contingencies applied to the 2020 election. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had certified their slates when the issue came before Congress on Jan. 6.

This is not the first time Toyota has pitted its policy decisions against the public interest.

In 2019, Toyota was one of the Big Three automakers that aligned with then-President Trump in its efforts to roll back federal emission and mileage standards and revoke California’s authority to set its own emission standards through a waiver of federal law. The others were General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.

As we observed at the time, Toyota and the other two were playing with fire.

They claimed to be acting to avoid the chaos of conflicting regulations, which would happen if California rules differed from federal rules. In fact, their action all but guaranteed chaos: California’s rules were coordinated with federal regulations and had been specifically adopted by a dozen other states – they effectively set the national standard. Trump’s action was intended to tear apart this carefully crafted unanimity.

Last year, California struck its own deal with five automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW of North America, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo — to preserve its rules. Toyota and its fellow Trump supporters have been left behind, especially after Trump lost re-election as the Biden administration worked to exterminate Trump rules.

GM has since moved to mend fences with the federal government by walking away from the Trump-era lawsuit to overturn California’s waiver.

A salient point raised at the time of Trump’s takedown effort was that GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota were among the worst performers in the auto industry in terms of clean air standards.

GM and Fiat Chrysler ranked at the very bottom of the list of 13 automakers whose performance in fleet mileage efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions had been measured by the Environmental Protection Agency between the years. 2012 and 2017 models. Toyota was the fifth worst and was also the only automaker whose performance deteriorated during this period.

In the EPA Tracking Analysis, bringing the current stats to the 2019 model year, GM and Fiat Chrysler were still ranked lowest and Toyota ranked fifth. There was a slight difference that Toyota had actually improved its performance over previous data, albeit modestly.

The best performer in both analyzes among mainstream automakers was Honda, which made the deal with California. The other California supporters all huddled in the middle of the pack, except for Ford, who placed third in both versions. The best performing automaker in the most recent analysis is all-electric Tesla, which was not ranked in the previous analysis.

This brings us back to data from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Most of Toyota’s contributions went to Republicans in the Deep South, Midwest or Southwest. According to the analysis, Toyota has not contributed since Jan. 6 to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) or any of the six other California congressmen who shamefully voted on Jan. 6. .)

CREW data shows that no other contributing company has given money since Jan. 6 to nearly 37 members opting out of the election. Insurance company Cigna donated $42,500 to nine members and two GOP congressional campaign funds that support them. Koch Industries, the source of wealth for the right-wing Koch Network, gave $17,500 to seven election deniers and another $105,000 to committees. Fresenius Medical Care, a dialysis company, gave $15,000 to six of the caucus members and another $60,000 to the committees.

Fresenius, a Germany-based healthcare conglomerate, paid $27.5 million in 2018 to kill a California ballot measure that would have capped dialysis costs.)

It’s still early in the current election cycle — the next congressional election will be in November 2022 — so this analysis should be seen as the canary in the coal mine. A smart bet would be that more companies will see that their own interests lie, like Toyota’s, in making excuses for the Jan. 6 votes by federal lawmakers and continuing to hand out dollars to those they think can get them. do some good in the halls of Congress, not to mention threaten democracy.