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Corporate America's political backlash, explained

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Bloomberg Equality

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At this point, we're used to seeing U.S. companies awkwardly weigh in on social and political issues—and the assault on the U.S. Capitol last week was no different. Many were quick to condemn the mob and distance themselves from the violence. But this time something shifted: Many took action. Some of the biggest names in business said they were halting political donations to lawmakers who tried to overturn the U.S. presidential election results.  

Aligning with authoritarianism isn't a good look, begging the question: Is corporate America's political backlash meaningful or something more cynical? "These corporations' announcements are nothing more than a PR stunt––and a bad one at that," Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a Democratic group that opposes big money in politics, said in a statement. 

At issue is the fine print. Dozens of companies like JPMorgan Chase Citigroup and Microsoft, for example, enacted blanket suspensions of all political contributions. Critics, like Muller, say those moves are "predicated upon the dangerous false equivalency that led us to this breaking point." It treats legislators who didn't vote against certification the same as those who did, she said. 

Another important note: "This is temporary," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. Many companies have merely suspended contributions from their political action committees at a time when few lawmakers are hitting them up for money anyway. That might change in six months when members of Congress are fundraising more aggressively and corporate PACs kick into gear, she said. 

U.S. Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, said banks in particular should rethink their political contributions even further. "If JPMorgan is serious about change, they should shut down their PAC instead of this short-lived PR stunt," Porter tweeted this week.

The uproar over the Capitol has, at least, sparked a broader conversation about campaign finance. We're learning who corporate America is choosing to financially support. 

Six of the biggest money managers gave a combined $1.03 million to Republican lawmakers who objected to certifying results of the 2020 presidential election, a new study found. Political action committees of BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Fidelity Investments, State Street Corp. and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. contributed to one or more of those legislators in election cycles since 2016.

By the Numbers

U.S. cities are devoting a greater share of their spending to law enforcement, even in places where officials appeared to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement's cries of "defund the police."


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