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Money in Politics – After US Capitol attack companies cease $$ for lawmakers supporting election overturn: Epiphany or merely a pause?

Was the terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol the inflection point for corporate money in politics?

The New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks it should be – not just a “pause for reflection”, but a permanent policy commitment to cease donations to political candidates “An Epiphany” Moment for Corporate Donors May Have Arrived” .

With dozens of companies suspending such funding, especially to members of Congress who objected to certifying the results of the November presidential election (many of whom subsequently voted against impeachment of the president), Ross Sorkin cited a significant outlier. (Print edition headline: “IBM Bans Political Donations. So Should Other Companies”):

“IBM … didn’t have to issue a mea culpa for a simple reason. It doesn’t donate to candidates on either side of the aisle – at all, ever. IBM is one of only a handful of large companies in the United States that are not involved in direct political giving to candidates. It has no political action committee.”

Ross Sorkin also made an important distinction on political finance reform and IBM policy. “Indeed, IBM spends millions of dollars per year on lobbying, running an in-house government relations team and hiring outside firms to argue the company’s case on specific rules and regulations.

“In other words, companies should be free to ‘work the refs’ on issues important to them. But they shouldn’t be paying the refs, too.”

The Ross Sorkin column ran during a week of traumatic U.S. national examination-of-conscience following the deadly January 6th assault on the Capitol:

“After Riot, Business Leaders Reckon with Their Support For Trump”  

.“How the Capitol Riot Is Affecting Corporate Political Spending”

It was also a week with related news at the margin.

. Sheldon Adelson, casino magnet who with his wife reportedly donated some $217 million to Republican organizations in the 2020 political cycle, died at 87.

.The respected 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reported findings that contrast business and government. If applied diligently, they may provide a context for related corporate reputation management: “Business (61 percent) has emerged as the most trusted institution replacing government (53 percent) … Business is the only institution deemed ethical and competent; business outscores government by 48 points on competency and is approaching NGOs on ethics … Over the last five months, business seized the high ground of trust by proactively developing vaccines in record time and finding new ways to work … Communication from ‘my employer’ is the most trusted source of information.”

There are, of course, influential voices calling for a total, permanent withdrawal of corporate financial support of political candidates.  Ciarra Torres-Spelliscy , Brennan Center Fellow and professor of law at Stetson University of College of Law is a leader for that point of view, especially now: “If corporations are serious about getting out of politics, they will stop sending their $100,000 or $1,000,00 checks to super PACS who supported the [election] objectors.”

Withdrawing from financing political candidates permanently may seem too audacious for some. But imagine a society in which “PAC money” was instead committed to improving society via a very different kind of PAC – “People Assistance Commitments”.

Encouragement for such a bold corporate financial pivot may be found intrinsically from Fareed Zakaria in his new book, ” “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World”. Writing in the context of epic societal changes of direction toward progress: “… might our era’s pandemic provoke a similar spirit of societal introspection, an equivocal shock to our complacency?”