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'Temporarily' Not Good Enough: Corporate America Called to End Political Giving Once and for All

"The attack at the Capitol warrants more than shallow promises to merely pause political donations. We must rededicate America's grand experiment to its foundational principle—government of, for, and by the people."

"For too long Corporate America has been able to influence our democracy in the shadows with CEOs welcoming the opportunity to push their agenda in Washington," said Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

"For too long Corporate America has been able to influence our democracy in the shadows with CEOs welcoming the opportunity to push their agenda in Washington," said Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

More than 50 social justice organizations and investment firms on Wednesday sent a letter to corporate executives in which they argued that temporarily pausing donations to the dozens of Republicans who endorsed the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and tried to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters is insufficient.

If corporations are truly concerned about the future of U.S. democracy, the coalition wrote in an open letter (pdf), they must permanently cease political spending.

"Elections belong to the people and their voices must be heard without being drowned out by unrestricted corporate campaign spending."
—Mel Wilson, NASW

"The attack at the Capitol warrants more than shallow promises to merely pause political donations," Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, said in a statement. "We must rededicate America's grand experiment to its foundational principle—government of, for, and by the people."

Mel Wilson, senior policy adviser at the National Association of Social Workers, echoed Gilbert. 

"Elections belong to the people and their voices must be heard without being drowned out by unrestricted corporate campaign spending," Wilson said.

"Unfettered and secret political contributions by the super-rich," he added, "contradicts the national ethos that ability to vote is the great equalizer between the average man and the financially powerful."

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, a Public Citizen analysis found that corporate and trade association political action committees (PACs) have given roughly $170 million since 2016 to the 147 congressional Republicans who objected to the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

"All corporations and trade groups must pledge to cut these politicians off for life," the letter states. But rather than simply "creating a list of insurrection-supporting or insurrection-enabling politicians, Corporate America should use lessons from this episode as a basis to end their electioneering efforts, altogether."

Corporate PACs are not the only entities that have spent millions of dollars to support the anti-democratic GOP.

A recent analysis by The Guardian showed that the Club for Growth, a billionaire-funded anti-tax group, donated roughly $20 million to the 2018 and 2020 campaigns of 42 seditious lawmakers—including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.)—who echoed former President Donald Trump's lies about election fraud and then voted to overturn Biden's win even in the aftermath of the deadly riot.

And the most substantial political spending on behalf of the insurrectionist GOP has been carried out by super PACs as well as dark money groups, which allow billionaires and corporations to contribute unlimited funds in secret and therefore without accountability.

According to The Daily Poster, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) and the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the two biggest super PACs bankrolling House and Senate Republicans, raised more than $578 million to support GOP lawmakers in the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, The Daily Poster's Andrew Perez and David Sirota wrote, "an increasing portion of resources flooding into politics is going into dark money groups that do not have to disclose their donors. OpenSecrets estimated that dark money groups injected more than $750 million into the 2020 elections—and that does not account for other dark money that funds propaganda, misinformation, and astroturf organizing."

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As Gilbert put it, "For too long Corporate America has been able to influence our democracy in the shadows with CEOs welcoming the opportunity to push their agenda in Washington."

"Only now," she added, "with the stability of our democracy shaken to its core, are companies distancing themselves from the insurrectionists."

In response to reports that major financial institutions would be suspending campaign contributions in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said earlier this month that "if Wall Street really believed in defending our democracy, they would commit to never making another campaign donation—period."

While more corporations have since stated they intend to modify their political giving, progressives have echoed Sanders by calling for a permanent ban on moneyed interests influencing elections and shaping the political arena more broadly.

"January 6 should sound the alarm that it's time to get corporate money out of politics," said Josh Zinner, CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, one of the signatories to the letter to Corporate America.

As the letter puts it:

After a violent mob stormed the Capitol searching for elected leaders to attack, kidnap or potentially assassinate—due in large part to the lies and conspiracy theories pushed by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress—147 members of Congress then made the conscious decision to endorse many of the very same conspiracy theories by voting against certification. They should face long-term consequences for these actions.

Ending contributions to the 147 would be a start, but it is far from enough. Politicians like Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) perpetuated false claims about the election. Others signed on to lawsuits asking the U.S. Supreme Court to unjustly throw out several states' votes. All of these politicians bear some responsibility for the siege of the Capitol building.

While corporate executives have attempted to distance themselves from the pro-Trump mob and some of the seditious GOP lawmakers complicit in the deadly mayhem earlier this month, "Corporate America must end their political operations indefinitely in the wake of insurrection at the U.S. Capitol," said Folabi Olagbaju, democracy campaign director at Greenpeace USA.

The fact that so many corporations condemned the right-wing violence that occurred on January 6 as well as the subsequent refusal of 147 congressional Republicans to certify the outcome of the 2020 presidential election "illustrates their leaders' awareness of the reputational risks that accompany political activities," the letter continues.

"On a simple level, this lesson alone should justify getting out of the business of politics. On a more philosophical level, the entire notion of corporations meddling in politics cuts against the grain of the very root of democracy, which is people," the coalition noted. 

The letter outlines five steps that corporate leaders should take to demonstrate their support for democracy:

  • Shut down their PACs immediately;
  • End all super PAC contributions;
  • End all contributions to dark money groups for electioneering;
  • End all spending to influence elections at the state and local level; and
  • Fully disclose how much and to which intermediaries they contribute.

The U.S. needs "transformational democracy reform," said Olagbaju. "The Senate must immediately pass the For the People Act (S.1), which includes necessary reforms to make our political system more inclusive and responsive to people instead of corporations."

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