Business grows skittish about Trump and GOP after riots

Citigroup is one of several businesses rethinking political contributions in the wake of the deadly Capitol siege by supporters of President Trump.

WASHINGTON — Corporate America is quickly distancing itself from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, with many of the biggest names in business — Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola, Ford, and Blue Cross Blue Shield — suspending political donations after a Trump-inspired mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol in a deadly and violent spree last Wednesday.

For now, the move is about affirming the rule of law and the clear results of an election that will elevate Democrat Joe Biden to the presidency. But it also signals that companies are growing skittish about lawmakers who backed Trump’s false claims of election fraud, possibly depriving Republicans of public backing from business groups who until recently were the heart of the GOP’s political brand.

“This is spreading like wildfire,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale University’s management school who consults with CEOs. “The U.S. business community has interests fully in alignment with the American public and not with Trump’s autocratic bigoted wing of the GOP.”

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Yet the “pausing” of donations announced by many companies — including Marriott, American Express, AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Dow and others — was unlikely to deliver a serious blow to Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn Biden’s win.

“These are symbolic pledges,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that traces the role money plays in politics. “This is just one source of revenue and for some it’s vanishingly small, particularly in the Senate.”

Corporate-sponsored political action committees are limited to donating $5,000 per candidate each year. In races that often cost incumbents millions of dollars, such contributions account for just a small fraction of the overall fundraising picture.

Take Sen. Josh Hawley. The Missouri Republican has drawn widespread scorn for becoming the first senator to announce he would oppose the certification of Biden’s victory.

Since 2017, when he launched his Senate bid, only about $754,000 of the $11.8 million he raised came from corporate PACs and trade groups. That accounts for about 15% of his total fundraising haul, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosures.

What’s more, Hawley wasn’t the biggest spender in his race. Outside conservative groups, including those affiliated with Republican leadership, were the ones who dropped the lion’s share of money that helped him oust former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Such groups are largely insulated from the corporate donation pause.

Still, greeting card maker Hallmark went a step further than most companies. The Kansas City-based company has asked both Hawley and recently elected Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall to return its contributions because of their votes opposing Biden’s win.

“Hallmark believes the peaceful transition of power is part of the bedrock of our democratic system, and we abhor violence of any kind,” Hallmark spokeswoman JiaoJiao Shen said in a statement.

A PAC for the company has donated $7,000 to Marshall, FEC records show. The company says it has also donated $5,000 to Hawley.

In many cases, though, companies are only suspending their giving for several months, leaving ample time to ramp up donations before the 2022 elections.

“Many of these PACs wouldn’t be donating now anyway,” Krumholz said.