Corporations pouring cash into the political campaigns of election deniers
Trump supporters across the country backed the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. Of the 147 Republican lawmakers who backed the coup by voting against certification of the Biden win, 130 remain in office. Many are raking in huge amounts of corporate cash that the companies said, at first, they were cutting off. | AP

WASHINGTON—Three years ago, after 1,000 raging white nationalists and violent Trumpites of many different stripes invaded the U.S. Capitol in Republican Donald Trump’s last try to overturn the 2020 election results—and after most congressional Republicans supported his “Stop the steal!” lies–major corporations pulled their campaign cash from the “sedition caucus.”

Not for long, and not anymore., which tracks campaign and lobbying cash, says they’re back—giving to those lawmakers as if nothing had happened.

To be precise, from the start of 2021 through Sept. 30, 2023, the American Bankers Association, Boeing, Walmart, and other big givers forked over $108.3 million to lawmakers who voted—and in some cases actively led—the opposition to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s legitimate Electoral College win. One-third of that sum flowed into campaigners’ coffers in 2023 alone.

Money talks

“Money talks and powerful organizations use it to influence elections and policy,” says OpenSecrets, which tracks both so-called “hard money” found in disclosure statements, “soft money” where donors don’t have to disclose who gave to them, and lobbying spending, too.

All this cash gives the corporate class clout with the “sedition caucus”–and with the rest of Congress, too. It’s clout workers and their allies can’t match. They’re constantly outgunned, often by double-digit ratios in the money race. The result, as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt./, often say, is a rigged system—rigged against unions, workers, and their families.

Citing reports in the New York Times, OpenSecrets senior researcher Anna Massoglia said more than 1,400 business PACs, including industry trade groups such as the American Bankers Association, “poured more than $91.4 million into political contributions directly to the campaigns of election objectors” running from 2021 through the first nine months of last year.

They also funneled $16.7 million into those lawmakers’ “leadership PACs” (campaign finance committees) at that same time. Leadership PACs are another pot of money lawmakers establish. They dole it out to their colleagues, as a way of, using the old phrase “winning friends and influencing people.”

But leadership PACs have another, more sinister purpose, for the corporate campaign cash. They serve as conduits to hide the true origins of the cash from the public. Instead, the corporation or lobby or company honcho donates to the “leadership PAC” which then has its name, not theirs, on the donation it passes on.

It’s a form of money laundering, complete with quid pro quo hidden from voters.

Colleagues remember when the leadership PAC’s sponsor wants to seek higher office—such as Speaker, Majority Leader as committee chair, or ranking member of the minority party.

So, for example, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., an election denier known as a prodigious fundraiser for his colleagues—and who flew to Mar-a-Lago after the invasion to kowtow to later-impeached and indicted serial misogynist Trump—reaped $1.74 million in corporate contributions last year alone, #2 among all lawmakers. Two-thirds went to his leadership PAC.

And 58% of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s corporate campaign contributions went to his leadership PAC, too.  Also a denier, the Louisiana Republican raised $1.549 million overall, finishing third. He tried to call in those chips by running for Speaker when far-right Trumpite Freedom Caucus lawmakers threw McCarthy out of his post. Scalise lost, too.

What’s notable, OpenSecrets reported, is corporations and lobbies that “paused” contributions after the coup try resumed funding congressional election deniers whose stands stalled the vote count—and gave the invaders time to overwhelm the Capitol’s defenders.

American Bankers Association a big giver

And this year alone, one of those who had paused, the American Bankers Association, at $430,000, led the league in donations to election deniers. Other corporate donors to lawmakers who still slavishly follow Trump’s “stolen election” line include AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, Home Depot, Lockheed Martin, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, Raytheon, SpaceX—Elon Musk’s company—Union Pacific, UPS, Verizon, and Walmart. Raytheon. Like many corporate monsters, covers its bases all over the place. It also gives heavily to Democratic representative Adam Schiff who is running for U.S. Senate. Schiff, in returning the favor to Raytheon, is a big backer of pouring weapons made by Raytheon into Ukraine.

In return for forking over such sums of cash, the corporations, lobbies and their campaign finance committees expect—and get—legislative favors, which they call “access,” in return.

Boeing, for example, doled out $763,500 in the first nine months of last year, with $279,000 (36.54%) to Democrats and $472,000 to Republicans. Given its malfunctioning airplanes, the aircraft giant may have to shell out even more to keep itself in lawmakers’ good graces—and its planes licensed to fly.

As for “access” and quid pro quo, Trump, during his 2016 run for the White House, described them.

“I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me,” Trump said during a Republican presidential hopefuls debate. “And that’s a broken system.”

As an example, Trump cited the health insurers. “The insurance companies…have total control of the politicians” and are “making a fortune” by controlling the U.S. health care system, he added.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another 2016 GOP hopeful, chimed in at the same debate: “The problem is we have a Wall Street-to-Washington access of power that has controlled the political climate. The donor class feeds the political class who does the dance the donor class wants. And the result is federal government keeps getting bigger.”

Few senatorial election deniers are in the top 20 in garnering corporate campaign cash so far, OpenSecrets reported. One who is, though, MarkWayne Mullin, R-Okla., gained notoriety among union members for another reason: The former mixed martial arts pro challenged Teamsters President Sean O’Brien to a brawl right in the middle of a Senate Labor Committee hearing.

O’Brien was ready to take Mullin on before committee chair Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt, put a stop to the Oklahoman’s antics. But corporate contributors took Mullin in last year. He finished #10 in the money standings, at $565,500, even though he had just won re-election in deep-red Oklahoma. All but $18,000 of that corporate cash went to Mullin’s leadership PAC, which he can use to cultivate senatorial colleagues.

McCarthy, Scalise, Mullin, and the others trailed previously little-known Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., the new chair of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. That panel’s members are a favorite magnet of corporate special interests seeking individually targeted tax breaks. Unlike the others, three-fourths of Smith’s corporate haul went to his campaign committee, not his leadership PAC.

But the panel also writes Social Security and Medicare legislation, meaning workers and their allies have a big stake there, too. But they don’t have the gelt of the corporate contributors.

“Smith has already received $10,000 from more than a dozen companies during the 2024 election cycle. Corporate PAC contributors that maxed out to Smith this cycle include American Crystal Sugar, Cigna, CVS Health, Deere & Co., Qualcomm and Toyota,” OpenSecrets reported. So did five corporate trade associations.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.