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Tina Casey headshot

Corporate PAC Donations Can Talk When Democracy Is on The Line

By Tina Casey
PAC Donations

The failed insurrection of January 6 was aided and supported by 147 sitting members of Congress who pledged to vote against certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential election. As long as they continue to hold those seats, the American democratic system is at risk — to put it mildly. The question now is whether or not business leaders can deploy their political action committee (PAC) donations to help push anti-democratic lawmakers out of office when the all-important midterm elections come up in 2022.

And the answer for the influence of PAC donations is…yes

At first glance, it may seem that corporate funding makes little or no difference in the age of social media, at least not for elected officials who are willing to follow the Trump strategy of appealing to racists, xenophobes and white supremacists.

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, has been offsetting the loss of corporate dollars with a steady stream of offensive antics that appeal to her Trump-favoring constituents and a significant number of out-of-state supporters, too.

In addition, PAC donations only account for about 15 percent of all donations for members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives overall. However, that average figure hides a significant number of members of Congress who lean more heavily than others on PAC donations — or they did, before business leaders pulled the rug out from under them for supporting an insurrection.

PAC cancellation can hit where it hurts

Independent journalist Judd Legum has been tracking PAC donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to support the insurrection. He has noted that a significant number of business leaders followed through on their pledges to withdraw corporate funding from elected officials who supported the violent, bloody events of January 6.

A new analysis by the business organization Leadership Now Project adds more detail that suggests how deep the PAC cut goes for some of those lawmakers.

“Over half of the lawmakers who objected to the election results received more than 25 percent of their funding from business PACs, and of those, 25 received more than 50 percent from business PACs,” Leadership Now explained, adding that “The data reveals there are concentrations of lawmakers who receive high levels of business PAC funding in hotly contested states, particularly in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania.”

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The detailed analysis names each of the lawmakers and provides the percentage of their funding from PAC donations.

“Companies can demonstrate that they genuinely support the legitimacy of the 2020 election results by staying accountable to their commitments to pull back funding,” Leadership Now observes. “At a moment when 26 percent of Americans and 55 percent of Republicans still doubt the legitimacy of the election, and members of Congress who refused to accept the results are consolidating their position, business commitments to pull back from these lawmakers make a meaningful difference in protecting our democracy.”

Some businesses still support the sedition caucus through PAC donations

So far, Republican members of Congress have blocked investigations that could reveal more information about the actions of the 147 insurrection-supporting lawmakers leading up to and including the events of January 6, However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving forward with the formation of a Select Committee, which cannot be blocked by Republicans. Its findings could be very damaging to insurrection-supporting legislators, and deeply embarrassing to any company that still donates to PACs associated with them.

For an indication of just how much heat could pour down upon business leaders who are willing to let insurrection slide, consider the case of Toyota.

Last week the watchdog organization CREW ran the numbers and found that 109 of the 147 legislators continued to receive corporate or industry PAC money after January 6.

Koch Industries and Walmart are among the top at the list for contributions to the NRCC and NRSC at $105,000 and $60,000, respectively. But the real attention-getter was Toyota, which turned heads with 37 contributions to individual members and leadership PACs totaling $55,000.

To put that in context, $55,000 is just about twice the $17,500 that Koch poured into members and leadership PACs. Walmart spent nothing in that category as did many of the others in the CREW analysis. The next closest company was Cigna with $12,500.

“While every member has a campaign committee, not all members have a leadership PAC, which is a type of political committee established by a candidate or a federal officeholder to raise money that’s supposed to be used to support allies,” CREW explained. “In practice, however, leadership PACs are often little more than slush funds for politicians to pay for luxury resort stays, golf club memberships, and private jet travel, thanks to the FEC’s loose interpretation of the statutes that govern them.”

Lessons for the tone-deaf

CREW matched the PAC donations with the 147 insurrection-supporting lawmakers. According to its analysis, Toyota made the list of top 10 corporate donors to the “sedition caucus,” coming in at seventh.

That would not have necessarily turned heads, except that Toyota was the only automaker in the top 10. It was also the only consumer product manufacturer in the top 10, and it was the only widely recognizable name except for Walmart.

The others were (counting down from the top): Koch, American Crystal Sugar, Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc., Walmart, Nextera Energy, Inc. PNC, CSX Corporation, U.S. Bancorp and Cigna.

The CREW analysis quickly turned into a media firestorm focusing on Toyota.

USA Today, for example, reported the CREW analysis under the headline, “Toyota tops list of corporate donors to anti-election-certification Republicans in Congress after Capitol insurrection.”

Toyota attempted to put out the fire with a public statement, but that only made matters worse.

"Toyota supports candidates based on their position on issues that are important to the auto industry and the company," the automaker said in a statement reported by USA Today and others. "We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”

The problem for Toyota is that voting to certify the General Election is a bipartisan formality that has taken place virtually without a hitch for generations. The January 6 vote was nothing like that. It took place just hours after a bloodthirsty mob broke into the Capitol Building with the intent to kill, in order to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power and install former President Trump into an illegitimate, unwanted and undeserved second term.

The lawmakers who voted against certifying the results were not voting for their favorite ice cream. They voted to endorse an anti-democratic, anti-American, violent and tyrannical power grab that could have wreaked chaos across the country and caused as much damage, if not more, than the Civil War.

Fortunately, the insurrection was quelled, and further violence has not erupted across the country, at least not yet.

However, those votes continue to have a consequential impact on the democratic process. Republican state legislators are attempting to pass hundreds of new laws that make it harder for Democratic-leaning constituents to vote, and they are leveraging the same false “voter fraud” canard that the insurrection supporters used to justify their votes against the 2020 election.

Given this context, Toyota clearly failed to recognize the significance of continuing to put PAC donations in the pockets of insurrection-supporting members of Congress.

“This is essentially a financial analog to the assertions by some GOP leaders that nothing really serious occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and the Republicans’ refusal to support a bipartisan investigation of the events,” wrote LA Times business columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Hiltzik, under the scorching headline, “By supporting seditionist lawmakers, Toyota shows disdain for the public interest.”

What’s next for corporate America?

The media firestorm was bad enough, but for Toyota the consumer backlash could be even worse, as Toyota owners have taken to social media vowing to never buy another car from the company.

The threat of a consumer boycott could evaporate, as they often do. However, Toyota’s public relations crisis comes at a pivotal moment for the auto industry, when U.S. automakers like Ford are introducing all-electric versions of their most iconic brands.

That could put Toyota’s hybrid Prius brand at a disadvantage. Ford has already found that its all-electric version of the Mustang is drawing in a significant number of new customers. Toyota could find itself on the short end of the stick as car buyers explore new choices.

In addition, business-to-business boycotts can be highly effective. Toyota may begin to feel pressure from high profile corporate stakeholders such as NASCAR, which has been voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement while trying to stay out of the voter suppression debate.

All in all, the entire controversy has lent steam to House Speaker Pelosi’s plans for investigating the failed insurrection of January 6, and holding to account those who were responsible.

Business leaders who don’t want to get caught in the crossfire should get out while they still can and stop sending money to both federal and state lawmakers who support insurrection, voter suppression, or both.

Image credit: Jose Fontano/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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