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What Fortune 500 Companies Said After Jan. 6 vs. What They Did – Alec MacGillis and Sergio Hernandez

What Fortune 500 Companies Said After Jan. 6 vs. What They Did

by Alec MacGillis and Sergio Hernandez

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Last week, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the reliably provocative Georgia Republican, declared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, “War Room,” that if her party wins back a House majority next week, as is quite likely, it will seek revenge on the corporations that curtailed contributions to the 147 congressional Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election results. “That’s not going to be forgotten by a whole bunch of my Republican colleagues,” she said.

It is not clear exactly what form such punishment would take. But there’s another complicating factor in this revenge scenario: Many of the corporations that announced with great fanfare their cutoff in contributions after the certification vote and storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, have since resumed giving to some of those 147 Republicans. In other words, if Greene leads a quest for revenge on those companies, she’ll be taking aim at the very corporations that have funded many of her allies.

For some of the companies, the resumption of giving to the 147 Republicans (139 in the House, eight in the Senate) started only a few months after they vowed to stop. But ProPublica has now created a tool to track and assess this remarkable shift: an app that has collected all of the campaign contributions that Fortune 500 corporations made to the 147 over the past two years. All told, at least 228 of the Fortune 500 — representing more than two-thirds of the 300-odd companies that have political action committees — have given to the 147, for a total of more than $13 million. (This does not include millions in contributions made to Republican campaign committees for the House and Senate, much of which is making its way to those who voted against certifying the election results.)

That $13 million sum is a stark testament to business as usual in Washington. These members — more than half of the Republicans in Congress — decided to side with the baseless claim to victory by then-President Donald Trump, thereby exacerbating an unprecedented transition-of-power crisis that threatened to upend the political order. And yet those members have managed to resume receiving substantial contributions from the companies that depend on the stability of that political order, including companies that garnered public relations points after the Jan. 6 riots by saying they were cutting the 147 off.

Take, for instance, General Electric, which issued a particularly strong clarion call in announcing a new post-Jan. 6 policy for its GE Employee Political Action Committee. “The GEPAC board has voted to suspend donations to those who voted to oppose the Electoral College results,” said Meghan Thurlow, GE’s global director of public affairs. “This is not a decision we made lightly, but is one we believe is important to ensure that our future contributions continue to reflect our company’s values and commitment to democracy.”

Less than two years later, GE has made contributions to 11 of the Republicans who voted against certifying the results. The company’s explanation of the shift? “The GEPAC board’s broad suspension of donations to those who voted to oppose the Electoral College results remains in place,” said a company spokesperson. “However, like many other PACs, it will consider individual exceptions on a case-by-case basis.”

Among the lucky beneficiaries of those exceptions: Rep. Ken Calvert of California, who said after the 2020 election that Trump “has the right to ensure vote counts are complete, accurate and legal”; Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, who tweeted, “I stand with President Trump. Every legal vote must be counted in complete transparency”; and Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas, who decried the FBI search for classified records in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home as an outrage that “undermines the credibility of the FBI.” All voted against certifying the election. All are also on committees of importance to GE: Calvert is on the appropriations subcommittees for defense and energy spending, Graves is the top Republican on the committee overseeing transportation and infrastructure, and Estes is on the ways and means subcommittee overseeing taxation.

Also among the companies jumping on the bandwagon was Home Depot. “We are pausing to take time to carefully review and reevaluate each of the members who voted to object to the election results before considering further contributions to them,” said Sara Gorman, the company’s senior director of corporate communications, on Jan. 27, 2021.

That pause, it turned out, lasted only a year, less than many home appliance warranties. Home Depot has given a total of $475,000 to 65 of the 147, making it the top donor to 2020 election deniers. Asked about this, Gorman said, “Our associate-funded PAC is bipartisan. It supports candidates and organizations on both sides of the aisle who champion pro-business, pro-retail positions that create jobs and economic growth.” No more mention of the 2020 election or the denial of such.

Standing in contrast are big companies that have not given to any of the 147 through their corporate PACs during this election cycle, which include tech giants like Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft and Wall Street powerhouses like JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and BlackRock.

But then there is Boeing, which in the idealistic days of early 2021 announced, through then-spokesperson Bradley Akubuiro, “Boeing strongly condemns the violence, lawlessness and destruction that took place in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Given the current environment, we are not making political contributions at this time. We will continue to carefully evaluate future contributions to ensure that we support those who not only support our company, but also uphold our country’s most fundamental principles.”

Among those now apparently upholding the country’s most fundamental principles, in Boeing’s estimations, are 74 of the Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election results, who have received more than $390,000. Asked about the contributions, company spokesperson Connor Greenwood said, “We do not have anything to add to the story.”

Joining Boeing in announcing a hiatus in political giving in early 2021 were its competitors in the defense contracting realm: Northrop Grumman, which was “evaluating the way forward”; Lockheed Martin, which was updating its strategy to “reflect our core values”; and Raytheon, which needed to “reflect on the current environment.” All that evaluating and reflecting seems to have gotten old fast: Northrop has given $175,000 to 26 of the 147; Lockheed donated more than $366,000 to 90 of them; and Raytheon has given $309,000 to 66. None of the three companies responded to questions.

One other defense contractor did respond: General Dynamics, which has given more than $324,000 to 67 of the 147 Republicans. In response to questions about the contributions, spokesperson Jeff Davis noted that the company’s recent investor report stated: “Our employee PAC will not support members of Congress who provoke or incite violence or similar unlawful conduct.”

Asked to elaborate on how the company determined whether a member had provoked or incited violence, Davis said, “Sorry, I’m not able to help beyond what is already written there.”

American Airlines, meanwhile, had put an explicit three-month duration on its own pause in political giving after Jan. 6, but had said that when it resumed making contributions, it would make sure to focus its support on lawmakers who “support U.S. aviation, airline workers and our values, including bringing people together.” Those whom it deems to have “brought people together” now include 42 of the 147 Republicans, for a total of more than $128,000. The company had no comment.

Regions Financial, the bank holding company, also had strong feelings about national togetherness as it announced a halt to political giving in January 2021. “This is a time for us, as a nation, to come together and identify a united path forward,” said media and public relations manager Jeremy King in that halcyon moment.

That united path forward led Regions to give to 74 of the 147 Republicans, for a total of more than $258,000. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

ProPublica also reached out to more than a half dozen other companies that were either among the top 15 donors overall to the 147 or among the top 10 donors on the list of companies that had announced a halt to contributions after Jan. 6: AT&T, Comcast, Honeywell, L3Harris, Marathon Petroleum, Williams and UPS.

None responded to requests for comment, with the exception of L3Harris, where spokesperson Paul Swiergosz wrote back, “We will politely decline comment regarding this story.”

Politeness is certainly appreciated in this uncivil age. So are “commitment to democracy,” “a united path forward,” and concern for “our country’s fundamental principles,” especially if they endure for more than a news cycle or two.