As the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurgency at the United States Capitol
sent shockwaves across the country, corporate America
appeared to take a stand against the lies
that fuelled the mob.
Dozens of major corporations pledged not to donate money
to the 147 lawmakers who objected to Congress
' certification of Joe Biden
's victory on the false grounds that voting fraud
stole the election from then-President Donald Trump
It was a bold move by some of the most well-known names in business
, but it turned out to be mostly meaningless.
Six months later, many of those companies have resumed funneling funds to political action committees that benefit lawmakers' election efforts, whether they objected to the election certification or not. When it comes to seeking political influence through corporate giving, business as usual has returned, if it ever did.
, Intel, General Electric, and AT&T
are among the companies that have pledged to support democracy
in the days following Trump supporters
storming the Capitol in a violent attempt to disrupt the transfer of power.
According to the companies, donating directly to a candidate is not the same as donating to a PAC that supports them, but given America's lax campaign finance
laws, that's a moot point.
The companies' argument also ignores the fact that, for the most part, they gave through PACs before making their pledge, rather than to individuals, so in many cases nothing changed.
“Pledges to not give to a specific person don’t mean much when there are so many other ways that corporate money reaches elected officials,” said Daniel Weiner, a former senior counsel at the Federal Election Commission
who now works at New York University
’s law school’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Walmart's moral stance lasted three months: in January, the retail
giant said it would suspend all donations
to the 147 lawmakers who objected to the election results; however, in April
, the company gave $30,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party organization that supports House Republicans
Two-thirds of the House members opposed certifying Biden's victory.
Walmart also contributed $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate
Republicans' counterpart, which is led by an objector to the election's certification, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida
, who stands to benefit from the contribution along with seven other GOP
senators who also sought to overturn voters
Following the attack
in January, General Electric announced that it would “stop donations to lawmakers who voted against certification” because “we believe it is important to ensure that our future contributions continue to reflect our company’s values and commitment to democracy.” However, this was not the case.
General Electric contributed $15,000 to House and Senate Republican election committees in April.
Similarly, Pfizer pledged to suspend contributions to Republican objectors for six months, but after only three months, it gave $20,000 to the GOP's Senate group. Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo told the AP that the company made a distinction between giving money to individual lawmakers and groups formed to help those same lawmakers.
Nonetheless, she claimed that Pfizer had received no assurance from the Senate election committee that its donation would not be used to benefit the eight senators who voted against certification.
AT&T also pledged not to give money to lawmakers who objected to election results, but the company sent $5,000 to the House Conservatives
Fund in February after receiving assurances that the money would not go to lawmakers who objected to election results, despite the fact that the PAC is led by one of them.
According to campaign finance experts, there is no way to know whether money given to Republican PACs will end up directly in the campaign accounts of incumbents who objected to the election results. These Republican committees, like those for Democrats
, assist incumbents in a variety
of ways, including direct contributions and technical and professional assistance with voter data, advertising, and get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Furthermore, corporate contributions to party committees do not include so-called dark money contributions made to organizations that are not required to disclose details publicly, despite the fact that dark money is a popular vehicle for corporate giving.
“It’s completely frustrating from the standpoint of accountability,” says Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a Stetson University Law School professor who specializes in corporate campaign finance.
Many of the lawmakers who objected to the certification have previously relied heavily on the Republican House and Senate election committees and are likely to do so again.
For the 2020 election
, the NRCC passed along contributions to 39 Republican lawmakers who later objected to the election results, compared to 11 who did not; in total, the Jan. 6 objectors received five times more money than those who later voted to certify the states' electoral tallies.
According to Pfizer, GE, Walmart, and other companies contacted by the AP, their criticism of lawmakers who objected to the election results remains unabated.
For other companies, the pledges may simply be a cynical attempt to appear good in the eyes of the public, as few of the companies that made pledges tended to give large donations to individual lawmakers anyway, preferring to donate to big party PACs or dark money groups.
Weiner stated that if corporations were serious about using their clout to support democracy, they would fund efforts to defeat Republican legislation that would make it more difficult to vote in many states.
“I don’t think these companies are giving to these groups because they supported the insurgency,” Weiner explained. “They give money — and are pressured to give money — for a variety of reasons, all of which are related to their bottom line.”
Some companies did follow through on their pledges. Hallmark, for example, stated that it would not donate to objectors — and the company has made no PAC donations this year, as well as no direct donations to the 147 objectors.
Hallmark also asked two objectors, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley
and Roger Marshall
, to return direct contributions made to them prior to the insurgency. Those refunds have yet to be recorded in campaign finance records, and messages seeking comment from the two senators were not returned.
Other companies, including Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Archer Daniels Midland, and Kraft Heinz, have announced that they will stop making campaign contributions
after January 6
to rethink their campaign finance strategy.
Walmart's $60,000 contribution to GOP Senate and House committees is a fraction of the company's overall political spending on both parties, which topped $5 million last year.
Companies, like the companies behind the pledges, frequently give money to Democrats and Republicans alike in order to cultivate good relations with whichever party is in power.
The violent images from the Capitol were so visceral, the attack on the heart of American democracy so extraordinary, and the lies behind the attack so audacious, that some loyal Republicans abandoned their president and denounced the objectors in their ranks on Jan. 6.
If the protesters were successful, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
warned that “our democracy would enter a death
spiral” on that tense night.
For a time, everyone except the 147 seemed to be on the side of the angels, and corporations rushed to make pro-democracy pledges, but the devil
was in the details.