The swamp is healing.
The early months of 2021 were rough for many members of Congress, as they confronted every politician’s worst nightmare: a major disruption to the usually reliable gusher of corporate campaign cash.
Following the Jan. 6 sacking of the U.S. Capitol by MAGA zealots high on Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud, a host of corporate PACs and industry groups announced reviews of their policies on political giving. From Bank of America to Disney, from Microsoft to Raytheon to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many of the nation’s big donors hit the pause button. Some suspended all contributions to congressional races. Others drew up a more targeted “no-fly” list featuring members of the so-called Sedition Caucus, the 147 Republicans who voted on Jan. 6 to overturn the election results.
Further squelching the money flow, the coronavirus pandemic halted most in-person fund-raisers and other opportunities for lawmakers and favor seekers to hang out. Even if everyone puts on their best smiles — and pants — Zoom cocktail parties are a sad and sorry substitute for the usual parade of steak dinners, fishing trips, golf outings and other face-to-face schmooze fests. In the first quarter of 2021, corporate giving plummeted to individual members and campaign committees alike.
But as the election and pandemic traumas fade, corporate America is easing, quietly, back into the giving game. Lobbyists are suiting up. Fund-raising events are on the calendar. Wallets are reopening. It will take a while yet for the giving to return to its normal, obscene levels, but the trajectory is once more headed up — with the trend expected to accelerate in the coming months.
Rising vaccination rates and loosening Covid restrictions are only part of the picture here. More and more companies, after much soul-searching, are concluding that most Republicans have learned their lesson and been punished enough for Jan. 6. LOL. More likely, companies have concluded that the public outrage over the attack has subsided enough that they can resume currying favor with Republicans without too much blowback from shareholders and customers. After all, the Capitol was sacked more than five months ago. That’s an eternity in political time.
A new analysis by CQ Roll Call crunches the latest campaign finance data and reveals some of the notable players who have loosened the purse strings in recent weeks. For instance, reports Roll Call, “the top business and industry PACs contributing to the 147 G.O.P. lawmakers were major defense contractors such as General Dynamics, as well as Duke Energy, American Crystal Sugar Company and PACs connected with the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Realtors.”
As one industry player resumes donations, the path gets cleared — and the pressure increases — for others to follow suit. Morgan Stanley’s PAC resumed giving in February, while the American Bankers Association PAC did so in March, noted Reuters. Citigroup announced earlier this month that its PAC will resume contributions on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, JPMorgan will restart its PAC giving, although the company reportedly will steer clear of the Sedition Caucus — for now. After the midterms, the financial giant will revisit its decision, according to Reuters.
To be clear, corporate contributions never dried up entirely. Their professed passion for democracy notwithstanding, plenty of companies and trade groups were even more passionate about not endangering their special friendships with lawmakers. And nothing makes lawmakers friendlier than campaign cash.
Last month, a report by the government watchdog group CREW noted that, although PAC donations were way down in the three months following the Jan. 6 attack, “170 business PACs — some of which had previously committed to stop giving” — still donated over “$2.6 million to campaigns, leadership PACs and party committees allied with” the Sedition Caucus.
The Republican Party’s main House and Senate campaign committees — the N.R.C.C. and the N.R.S.C. — pulled in “a combined $1.7 million from PACs tied to more than 57 companies and industry groups,” according to CREW. Contributors included “household names like Pfizer, Intel, T-Mobile and CVS, as well as PACs tied to trade groups that represent industries as varied as real estate, mortgage banking and insurance agents.”
It seems worth noting that the head of the N.R.S.C., Senator Rick Scott of Florida, was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to overturn the election results even after the attack on the Capitol.
Of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results, CREW found that at least 103 had benefited from corporate cash. Representative Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania topped the list of recipients, having pulled in $44,000 from a range of corporations and industry groups, including John Deere and the National Chicken Council. Coming in at No. 2 was Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, the Missouri Republican who reportedly threatened to create an enemies list of any companies that put him on their do-not-contribute lists. And, of course, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, has continued to raise corporate cash for both his own campaign and his leadership PAC, albeit at far lower levels than usual.
Indeed, part of what makes the Jan. 6 dilemma so awkward for donors is that it is not merely fringe-dwelling backbenchers who have been complicit in Donald Trump’s election-fraud lies. Powerful Republican leaders have been a key part of the problem as well. Denying them contributions carries even greater risks.
The further Jan. 6 recedes from view, of course, the more that Corporate America will deem it less risky to donate than to not. As any savvy politician can tell you, the attention span of the American public is short. Without constant stoking, widespread outrage fades quickly — or is replaced by the next outrage. Just ask gun control advocates, who know too well how quickly the public, and politicians, move on from mass shootings.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why more and more industry givers already feel comfortable asking what, to many people, will sound like a totally outrageous question: Is it really fair to keep punishing congressional Republicans simply because their party attempted to undermine American democracy?