Months after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many deep-pocketed corporations say they are continuing to withhold campaign donations to 147 Republican lawmakers — including Maryland’s Andy Harris — who refused to certify last year’s presidential election results.
Big political players such as Exelon Corp., Comcast Corp., and Eli Lilly and Co., which collectively donated $15,000 to Harris during the 2019-20 election cycle, told The Baltimore Sun they aren’t ready to lift the indefinite funding pauses imposed after the Jan. 6 Capitol occupation by a mob loyal to former President Donald Trump.
The companies said the events of that period — particularly congressional Republicans’ efforts to reject state-certified Electoral College results unfavorable to Trump — did not represent their values.
“As part of our work to make life better, Lilly supports candidates across the political spectrum who demonstrate an understanding of our purpose and our work,” the large drugmaker said in a statement in response to questions about its giving. “While LillyPac regularly reviews its giving policies, at this time it is not making contributions to members of Congress who voted against certification of the Electoral College.”
While other influential organizations, including the National Association of Realtors — a consistent Harris donor — have since ended their suspensions, “I have been a little surprised how many have prolonged the pause and held off donating to the 147,” said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, an association of hundreds of business interests.
The nonpartisan council said it surveyed 55 companies or associations in early May and found that most were still denying contributions to the 139 U.S. House members and eight senators who supported efforts to overturn the election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
One third said they were extending their funding freezes through at least June, and in some cases much longer. Another third were noncommittal, leaving their suspensions open-ended.
The names of those surveyed were kept anonymous. “It would be safe to say a majority of respondents were major corporations,” said Pinkham, who has been advising PAC managers on how to manage politically risky decisions about which candidates to support.
The funding choices the businesses are making hold consequences for lawmakers who increasingly have come to depend on hefty corporate donations as the cost of campaigns rises.
“It’s really remarkable that some of the businesses and their PACs are holding steady,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “In campaigns, early money is extremely important as a way of scaring off challengers. Essentially, they’re saying in a way, ‘We don’t want to be associated with you.’”
Harris, an anesthesiologist who is the only Republican in Maryland’s 10-man congressional delegation, did not return requests seeking comment. His district includes parts of the counties of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford, as well as the Eastern Shore.
Harris, 64, an unwavering Trump supporter and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, joined GOP colleagues in arguing on behalf of Trump’s unfounded contention that some election results must be dismissed because of fraud or other irregularities. No evidence has been presented of any fraud.
While courts rejected his claims and state-level Republican election officials staunchly defended their counts, Trump called the balloting “rigged” and urged rallygoers on Jan. 6 to march to the U.S. Capitol. The crowd stormed the building, leading to the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four other people.
Afterward, well over 100 companies said they would reassess their political giving strategies, with many temporarily cutting off funding of Harris and the other 146 Republicans.
Most of the businesses did not say when — or if — they planned to return to earlier giving practices.
Many corporations have seemed to use the first part of 2021 for political soul-searching.
In recent months, hundreds of companies have spent significant time “to reaffirm their political giving was based on sound policies and procedures,” said Micaela Isler, executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees.
She said 34% of about 100 corporate political action committees that her association recently surveyed have reported adding criteria evaluating the “values” and “integrity” of candidates chosen to receive financial support.
More than two-thirds of the PACs participating in the survey had suspended giving after Jan. 6, Isler said.
Not all of Harris’ big donors are continuing their funding pauses.
In January, the National Association of Realtors, which has more than 1 million members, called the Capitol riot “shocking” and an “assault” on the peaceful transfer of power. It said it was suspending all federal political contributions.
But spokesman Patrick Newton said Wednesday that the association’s PAC trustees recently decided to lift the “temporary pause,” a decision the association said “will ensure we continue to engage with political candidates to support America’s homeowners and our nation’s real estate industry.”
The association has been a steady contributor to Harris over the years. Its PAC gave him four donations totaling $8,000 in 2020, according to Harris’ Federal Election Commission reports.
Newton said it was premature to say whether the association would again be contributing to Harris. FEC records show it resumed donating this spring to some of the other election-result doubters, including Republicans Ken Calvert of California, Greg Steube of Florida, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi. Each got $1,000.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said in January that some lawmakers had “forfeited” the business group’s support because of their actions, told its members in a March memo that it would be inappropriate to evaluate potential funding recipients “solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”
The chamber said there was an important distinction “between a member of Congress who voted ‘no’ on the question of certifying the votes of certain states and those who engaged and continue to engage in repeated actions that undermine the legitimacy of our elections and institutions.”
The business group’s PAC gave $1,000 each this year to two members who voted against election certification — Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Carlos Giménez of Florida. It did not donate to Harris, according to FEC records, and chamber spokesmen did not return messages asking whether it might give to him in the future.
Harris’ PAC donations were down in the year’s first three months compared with the first quarters of 2019 and 2017, according to FEC filings. Those periods correspond with this year’s first quarter because they were in nonelection years.
Harris raised $18,000 from PACs this year in the quarter ending March 31, according to the FEC reports. He had received $45,500 and $33,500, respectively from PACs during the first quarters of 2019 and 2017.
PACs contributing to Harris this year included the National Chicken Council PAC, Metropolitan Anesthesia Consultants PAC and Cura Strategies PAC. Cura is a health care communications firm. Representatives of the three organizations did not return messages seeking comment.
Because the amount of money donated to Harris from individual donors has risen, his overall fundraising is up compared with corresponding years, and he reported having $1.2 million in cash on hand as of March 31.
He has said he will seek a seventh two-year term in 2022, despite promising in 2010 to serve no more than six terms.
Because Harris’ district is Republican-friendly, the loss of a chunk of PAC money probably “wouldn’t make that much of a difference on him winning,” Hartley said. The district’s boundaries could shift before the 2022 elections because congressional lines are to be redrawn to reflect population shifts since 2010.
Harris has routinely topped 60% of the vote in his five reelection campaigns. He reported raising more than $400,000 from PACs during the last two-year election cycle.
Several PACs that have donated to him in the past — including Marriott’s and Northrop Grumman’s ― did not return messages from The Sun asking whether they would do so again.
Pinkham, the business council president, has been helping companies with their messaging as they decide whether to resume giving to Trump-allied lawmakers questioning the election results.
None of the 147 have recanted their position of objecting to the certification, and the party seems to be “all-in” on Trump’s legacy, Pinkham said. That makes it hard for a company that, for whatever reason, might want to resume contributing to one of the 147, he said.
“I’m likely to ask, ‘Why?’ and a company has to have a good reply,” Pinkham said.
He said he’s been advising companies that are ready to resume contributions to explain how they arrived at the decision over the course of the pause. “Otherwise, you look like you’re just waiting for this to blow over,” he said.