By Jason Lange and Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON – In the days after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, dozens of companies said they would suspend political donations to Republican lawmakers who had backed then-President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
More than one year later, Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to challenge the election results have so far collected about half as much corporate cash as they did at this point in the previous election cycle, a Reuters analysis of campaign finance records shows.
By contrast, corporate donations are up about 10% to House Republicans who voted to certify President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
The results indicate that the corporate boycott is not just limited to the dozens of companies that announced a halt to donations after the attack. Hundreds more have also scaled back their support, the Reuters analysis shows.
The shift illustrates the growing gulf between business interests and the right wing of the Republican Party, which under Trump’s presidency grew more anti-establishment and more open to curbs on global trade and technology that would have been anathema in previous years.
“You’ve got members that are increasingly unmoored from commercial corporate interests and are more responsive to either a small number of very wealthy, deep-pocketed donors, or a large number of culture war-activated base voters,” said Jon Lieber, a former staffer for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell now at the Eurasia Group, an analysis firm.
The drop in corporate donations is unlikely to affect Republican prospects in the November congressional elections. The party is favored to win control of the House and possibly the Senate, in part due to Biden’s sagging popularity, and because few Republican incumbents face competitive races of their own.
Reuters analyzed the 2021 campaign finance disclosures of 142 House Republicans who are running for re-election in November and were in office throughout the last election cycle. The analysis included both re-election funds and those raised by leadership committees, which lawmakers use to finance other political activities. The analysis focused on the House of Representatives where most Republicans voted against certifying Biden’s victory, compared to only eight Republicans in the Senate.
Fundraising by the House Republicans remains robust – about $200 million in 2021. Both objectors and non-objectors to Biden’s win brought in more money than in 2019.
Corporate dollars – which don’t come directly from company coffers but are contributed by employees to fundraising groups controlled by the corporations – made up about a tenth of that 2021 amount. Their role in campaign finance has diminished over the last decade as the advent of online fundraising has made it easy to solicit donations from rank-and-file voters.
Lawmakers who objected to Biden’s 2020 victory raised around $9 million from corporate groups in 2021, less than half of the roughly $19 million raised in 2019. Corporate money raised by those who did not object rose to about $14 million last year from nearly $13 million in 2019.
Even before the Jan. 6 attack, many companies steered clear of some of the most confrontational partisans.
Representative Matt Gaetz, who frequently appeared on cable television to praise Trump, raised only about $30,000 from corporate sources in 2019, out of the $1 million he netted in total.
He took in no money from corporate political action committees (PACs) in 2021 after voting to challenge the election results – but he raised about $4 million overall. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Others have taken a steeper hit.
Representative Mike Kelly, a senior member of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, collected about $460,000 in corporate donations in 2019.
But after the Pennsylvania Republican launched an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn Biden’s victory in his state and voted against certifying the election result on Jan. 6, he took in just over $110,000 in corporate donations last year – about 75% less.
Melanie Brewer, Kelly’s campaign manager, said he did not regret his vote.
“While fundraising was difficult for many Republicans in 2021, it was more important that he reflected the values and ideals of his district,” she said.
The chamber’s top two Republicans, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, also saw steep drops in their corporate donations after voting against the Jan. 6 results. Neither responded to a request for comment.
However, companies continue to give to Republican election accounts that will help the wider party, helping these accounts keep up with fundraising by Democrats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $140 million overall in 2021, on par with the $146 million raised by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Both groups raised more in 2021 than in 2019.
TECH, FINANCE FIRMS CUT OFF SUPPORT
The drop in corporate support for those who challenged the election masks significant differences among industries.
Eight of the largest corporate donors ahead of the 2020 election have cut off donations entirely to those who challenged the election results, records show.
Those companies are all in technology, finance or consumer goods – Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft Corp, Lowe’s Companies Inc, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp, Prudential Financial Inc, Citigroup Inc and General Electric Co.
All either did not respond to a request for comment or declined to comment. Most of them announced in early 2021 they were suspending contributions to those who challenged the election results.
Donating to those lawmakers “could really incite a bunch of their key stakeholders – like employees, suppliers, customers and so on,” said Russell Crook, an expert on corporate political activity at the University of Tennessee.
Some announced boycotts, only to abandon them.
Walmart Inc, which did not make any contributions in 2021 to the objectors, gave them $10,000 in January, split between McCarthy, Scalise and two others who voted against accepting the results.
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company changed its stance because it felt it could better advocate for its interests “by engaging with policymakers from both parties.”
By contrast, many defense contractors, whose profits depend on spending decisions made in Congress, have continued their support of all Republicans, whether or not they challenged the election results.
Two of them – Boeing Co and BAE Systems PLC – actually increased their donations to those who voted to challenge the election.
Boeing did not respond to a request for comment and BAE declined to comment.
Rock Holdings Inc, the parent company of mortgage lender Rocket Mortgage, roughly doubled its contribution to objectors in 2021, to at least $97,000. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Boeing, BAE and Rock also increased donations to those who did not object to the election result.
Some Republican lawmakers reacted angrily last year when corporate representatives told them they would not get their support, according to a Republican strategist who directs business donations to lawmakers.
But those tensions have eased in recent months as Republicans have grown more confident of victory and less interested in picking fights with possible allies, the strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Jason Lange, editing by Ross Colvin and Rosalba O’Brien)