It takes a lot for anyone, or any organization, to ask for a gift back. Hence it's hard to ignore the symbolism of Hallmark, the iconic Kansas City-based greeting card and gift product company, asking Josh Hawley, Missouri senator and leader of the so-called "sedition caucus, to return past political contributions. The company, which like many pools together political contributions from employees and retirees and funnels them to candidates running for office at all levels of government, has also made the same ask from newly elected Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas.
Hallmark’s request comes in the wake of announcements over the weekend made by corporations including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Marriott and Commerce Bankshares, all of which told independent journalist Judd Legum they would cease donating money to any members of Congress who had a role in attempting to overturn the Nov. 3 presidential election. They were joined by the likes of AT&T, which said it would also halt contributions specifically to any member of Congress who voted to reject the certification of the Electoral College results.
Almost a week after the U.S. Capitol breach, it’s clear from videos and eyewitness accounts that the severity of the insurrection is worse than first thought. For now, leaders of the so-called sedition caucus, notably Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have not only seen their long-term presidential aspirations put on hold — if not shattered — but they’ve also managed in the span of a few hours to rank among the most toxic brands in the U.S.
It’s too soon to tell if the actions these companies have taken against the sedition caucus will culminate in long-term decisions that could secure U.S. democracy. Or, to paraphrase the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they may simply serve as an attempt at “C.Y.A.” to inoculate companies from accusations that their political contributions were part of this problem, doing little to help fix democracy and public discourse in the U.S.
After all, many of these companies funded political operations that allowed state legislatures to take gerrymandering to a new level a decade ago; those funds also made it possible to bankroll the passage of voter identification measures as well as voter suppression efforts that in particular targeted Black Americans. Those checks came “not only from the individual villains who’ve soaked up the most progressive outrage and attention, but from a number of companies familiar to the American public,” Osita Nwanevu wrote in the New Republic only moments before the Capitol riots.
Many of these companies, no matter what their industry, have donated to both major political parties, which at first makes sense logically: The business community wants to hedge its bets depending on who wins an election. But as we’ve seen last summer with the rising calls of social justice, there is no “both sides” on some issues — whether that’s the value of Black Americans’ lives or ensuring American democracy.
The events of the past week have left behind many losers, but there could be one eventual winner: publicly-funded elections. “Part of the blame lies with a campaign finance system that unfairly stacks the deck in favor of the few donors able to give large contributions,” says the Brennan Center for Justice. “Citizens United and other court rulings ended decades of commonsense campaign finance laws. Now a handful of wealthy special interests dominate political funding, often through super PACs and shadowy nonprofits that shield donors’ identities.
If these companies really want to ensure everyone has a voice, they can do more than stop funding politicians and hope they avoid another scenario like that of the sedition caucus — they could demonstrate that they are a force for good and lobby for publicly-funded elections, helping to find a path toward scuttling the 10-year-old Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, one that also helped pave the path to last week’s disaster.
Image credit: TapTheForwardAssist/Wiki Commons
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 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.