Mar 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Corporate donations fizzle post-Jan. 6

Animated illustration of money straps in a briefcase disappearing one by one.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The January attack on the U.S. Capitol had a larger impact than previously known on corporate political giving, new campaign finance filings indicate.

Why it matters: The immediate and intense political fallout over the insurrection pushed scores of companies to announce a pause or end to political donations. New numbers suggest an even larger chilling effect, with companies that had been quiet publicly also forgoing donations.

  • Corporate PACs for some firms that didn't announce post-Jan. 6 changes to their political giving — such as Sysco, Assurant, Citizens Financial and Pioneer Natural Resources — didn't give a dime to federal candidates in the first two months of the year.
  • All four donated to at least one political candidate during the first two months of the 2020 election cycle.

Other companies that announced internal reviews appear to be remaining on the sidelines.

  • United Airlines, CVS and Chevron announced they would reevaluate those policies. None donated to a federal political candidate in January or February.

Firms that did announce changes to their political donation policies appear to be staying true.

  • The corporate PAC for financial services company Charles Schwab dissolved entirely this week, after the company said it would abandon its political giving program. The 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 — reported following through.

Even companies that swore off donations just to the members of Congress who opposed certifying President Biden's Electoral College win appear to be going even further.

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

What they're saying: "I definitely think that (the Jan. 6 attack) will have an impact long term" on political giving, said Kristin Brackemyre, director of political action committee and government relations at the Public Affairs Council.

  • "Organizations are much more aware that every single contribution they make, they need to be really thoughtful and ... need to evaluate whether this could be controversial, and who it would be controversial to," Brackemyre said.

Yes, but: Not all of corporate America has been so reticent to reengage. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced it would not cut off members of Congress just because they voted against certifying the election.

  • Nor have corporate PACs that swore off donations been the moderating force that many hoped. In fact, they could have the opposite effect, encouraging fringe donors.
  • Firebrand Republicans such as Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) also have found that any loss in contributions they may have faced has been supplanted by a growth in grassroots support.

The bottom line: The Jan. 6 attack didn't just turn many major companies against some prominent GOP lawmakers; it showed how toxic American politics are right now.

  • That's forcing companies to balance the possibility of controversy with their immediate goals in Washington.
  • "Overall, I think corporate America wants to be politically engaged," Brackemyre said. "They just want to make sure that they're doing it in a responsible and tactful way."
Go deeper