Presidential hopeful Donald Trump loves to boast that he is “really rich,” but now that the primaries are over, he will need some help if he is going to compete with Hillary Clinton’s fundraising. Cleveland, which will host the Republican National Convention, has the usual task of finding corporate donors to help fund the four-day extravaganza that begins July 18. Many of America’s largest companies, however, clearly found Trump’s behavior over the past few weeks too much to bear -- and have backed out from spending money on what for them has long been a quadrennial event.
Corporations usually avoid partisan politics, especially now considering the toxic environment in Washington, D.C., and really, throughout the country. Appearing to favor one political party or another can pose a huge risk to a company’s ledger and even its reputation. Business and politics may have too cozy a relationship for many citizens’ comfort zones, but the fact is that most companies know they cannot antagonize too much of their customer base.
Plus, the optics can be just awkward. One instance is when Barbara Boxer was newly elected to the Senate from California. I attended a D.C. party in her honor during the week of Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration. We walked into a massive ballroom and were greeted by signs sporting the logos of ExxonMobil, other energy companies and other large corporations that hardly appeared to align with Boxer’s politics. Many attendees were clearly uncomfortable, as was Boxer, who ended her remarks to the gathering with, “You know what, we’re going to have the Children’s Defense Fund and other nonprofits' signs up here!" She was immediately cut off and rushed away from the stage by then-California Democratic Chairman Phil Angelides, who was clearly embarrassed by the snafu.
Indeed, lobbying has become the norm in the halls of Congress and state legislatures, while companies publicly strive however they can to come across as politically neutral. But political conventions are a different story. In the end, they are part coronation, part business meeting and part trade show. Many companies have long had a presence at both major parties’ conventions, as they are an opportunity to meet politically-connected people across the country.
But for many companies, this year’s campaign is far too controversial. Bloomberg reported on Thursday that JPMorgan Chase, Motorola, UPS, Walgreen’s and Wells Fargo have decided not sponsor the convention. These companies’ spokespeople were coy about the reasons why they will skip that week in Cleveland next month, said the article’s authors, Zachary Mider and Elizabeth Dexheimer. Several of these companies made it clear that they will not be at the Democrats’ convention either, which will occur in Philadelphia a week after the Republicans’ event. Wells Fargo will be a sponsor during that week, but between the company’s presence in Philadelphia, along with the fact that the arena in which the Democrats will convene is named after the company, the bank really does not have much of a choice.
Other companies, including Coca-Cola and Microsoft, already announced they will have a scaled-down presence during the Cleveland convention.
So while some of America’s largest companies may be silent as to why they are avoiding Cleveland, it is clear that Trump is giving these companies plenty of reasons to pass on joining the Republicans in northeastern Ohio for the sake of their reputation. Trump’s ongoing comments about Mexicans, his behavior in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, details about his past business practices and the campaign’s attempt to bully the media together reveal that the best way to respond to his invective is silence and closed textbooks. Add the tone of Trump’s campaign rallies, including a recent North Carolina event that writer Jared Yates Sexton live-tweeted, and it is clear why companies are joining Republican national leaders in distancing themselves from a man who seems hell-bent on fomenting divisions and hate, instead of making any attempt to unify the country.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.