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This May Be an 'Epiphany' for Corporate America

Businesses are halting political donations, but the big question is whether it's just a blip
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2021 8:44 AM CST

(Newser) – "Just a few days ago, this would have been unthinkable." That's the assessment of Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information political newsletter, as relayed to David Leonhardt of the New York Times. He's referring to the unprecedented wave of big corporations that have halted political donations in the wake of the riot in DC. The big question is whether the decisions are permanent. If so, this could be a sea change in American politics. Coverage:

  • Fourth branch: Think of modern CEOs as a fourth branch of government, writes Felix Salmon at Axios. "A new political force is emerging—one based on centrist principles of predictability, stability, small-c conservatism, and, yes, the rule of law." Corporations need stability to survive, "and when a sitting president threatens that stability by inciting an insurrectionist mob," CEOs will act quickly to restrain him.

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  • The companies: Among the big names taking part are Coca-Cola, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, UPS, Marriott, American Express, BP, AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Commerce Bancshares, Airbnb, Citi, Mastercard, Dow, and American Airlines. Some are stopping donations to GOP lawmakers who supported election challenges. Others are pausing all donations.
  • Going further: Hallmark is actually asking for its money back from GOP Sens. Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall because of their votes in favor of challenging election results, reports the AP.
  • Role model? One company that's not scrambling to halt political donations? IBM. That's because the company does not give political donations, period, writes Andrew Ross Sorkin in his New York Times column. Sorkin thinks other companies should follow suit. He quotes an exec with the Center for Political Accountability who says "this could be an epiphany moment" for corporate America.
  • Key question: "I've never seen anything like this," Fred Wertheimer of the watchdog group Democracy 21. "The key is: Is this temporary or is this real?" If the companies return to business as usual in a matter of weeks when the headlines fade, this revolt won't mean much.
  • Skepticism: At recode, Theodore Schleifer writes that corporate PACs don't play as big a role as you might think. "They reflect an increasingly small proportion of the total money in American elections." Still, he, too, thinks a permanent ban would be significant, as would a dissolution of corporate PACs altogether; better still would be if billionaire execs and board members applied the same principles to their personal political donations.
(Read more political donations stories.)

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