Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration of an elephant trunk reaching for money on a hook that is coming from the right. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.

  • A 2016 study by Brigham Young University political scientist Michael Barber, which examined fundraising data and voting patterns in the 50 state legislatures, found that reductions in corporate PAC contributions resulted in more political polarization.
  • Limits on donations from corporations, which are largely non-ideological access-seekers, pushed candidates to rely more heavily on contributions from individual donors more likely to back stridently ideological candidates.
  • "It's not as though they're going to stop fundraising," Barber said of lawmakers who voted against certification. "They're just going to turn to other sources of money, and they're going to turn to individual contributors who are motivated by that exact type of behavior."

His study examined state legislatures, but data at the federal level underscores the divide between lawmakers who rely on individual versus corporate contributions.

  • The top two non-leadership members of Congress in terms of individual fundraising in the 2020 cycle were Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, both considered ideological standard-bearers of their respective parties.
  • The top two non-leadership recipients of PAC contributions, by contrast, are both prominent centrists: Reps. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican.

Google was the latest company to announce a major change in its political giving policies on Tuesday.

  • It joined nearly 200 other companies that are rethinking their political giving in the wake of the Capitol attack.
  • The list includes more than 50 big-name corporations that, like Google, are yanking donations from Republicans who voted against certification. These include Disney, Pfizer, AT&T, Walmart and Amazon.
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