As Jan. 6 dawned and a truly alarming number of congressional Republicans were poised to vote against certification of the presidential election, Judd Legum’s online politics newsletter Popular Information published a connect-the-dots kind of article. In “20 corporations, $16 million, and 138 Republicans trying to subvert democracy,” Legum looked at those politicians and asked, ‘Who’s your daddy? How much has corporate America invested in you?’
Legum and co-author Tesnim Zekeria’s survey of corporate PAC donations yielded a list of companies — AT&T with over $2 million in donations, Comcast, Walmart, Google, Pfizer, Amazon, Lowe’s, and many more — and their financial support of this debatably treasonous group of elected public servants. Popular Information asked many of the firms if they intended to continue that support.
Late on Jan. 6 and into the morning of Jan. 7, even after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, ultimately 147 Republican senators and House members still supported at least one objection to the Electoral College vote, including to our eternal shame, Colorado Reps. Doug Lamborn and Lauren Boebert.
In the days following, references to Legum’s post bubbled up in The New York Times and Bloomberg and on social media, and other media did their own reporting on the story, causing corporate donors everywhere to worry about the optics of their political donations. Dow Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Citibank, AT&T, Hallmark, MasterCard and American Express, Marriott, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Motors and more cut ties with the 147, or “paused” their giving.
But Washington Post opinion writer Paul Waldman had it right on Jan. 12. He wrote, “Corporations and business groups that have lavishly funded the Republican Party for decades are now recoiling from it, as good an indication as any of how widespread the disgust with the party’s behavior has been. But don’t worry. Before long, corporate America will welcome Republicans back into its warm embrace and its bottomless pockets.”
And that’s the problem — corporate king-makers, along with the millions in dark money dollars that have arguably become a greater force in America’s politics than the voters.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — which conflated corporations with individuals and opened the door to political spending by corporations, the wealthy and special interest groups — $7 billion unrelated to political parties has poured into our federal elections.
But now, with a new administration (that seems to give a damn about ethics and the rule of law) and a new Congress, perhaps we can begin to fight back against what has become that accepted norm, the casual corrupting of our politics through money.
There are signs of hope:
•As a candidate, Joe Biden vowed to “fight for a constitutional amendment that will require candidates for federal office to solely fund their campaigns with public dollars, and prevent outside spending from distorting the election process.”
•Rep. Jason Crow (D, CD6) on the End Dark Money Act he’s introducing (again): “If you want to change the culture of Washington, if you want to actually start getting big things done, you have to clean up the system. You got to end the influx of this dark money in these super PACs that’s so corrosive and toxic to our political system. And that applies to health care, it applies to gun violence, it applies to addressing the climate crisis. You apply it to every major challenge we face. You’ve got to turn off the spigot of dark money into Washington and into our politics.”
We voters didn’t cause this mess, but it will take all of us to fix our broken campaign-finance system. Contact your elected officials and tell them the time for change has come.