Unpack corporate political contributions.

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Though the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th failed, they motivated plenty of Republicans to keep pushing unsubstantiated claims. That same day, 147 Republicans voted against certifying the election results, alleging fraud (NYTimes). After pushback from community groups, some corporations decided they would stop contributing to these candidates. However, businesses like AT&T, Intel, and Cigna have since betrayed those promises with quiet donations to Republican fundraising committees, ensuring their money will in part be distributed to those who voted in lockstep with an attempted coup.

Color of Change PAC’s Insurrection Incorporated is a campaign to pressure companies to permanently stop supporting those who voted against certifying last year’s election. Their website tracks companies who supported such politicians and notes whether any donations were given after January 6th. Readers can contact corporate leaders directly to demand such support stop (Insurrection Incorporated).

Several of those who voted against the election results had received contributions from computer firm Intel. Though Intel insisted such support would cease, on February 26th, the company gave $15,000 to the National Republican Campaign Committee (Insurrection Incorporated). Why would Intel want to overthrow American democracy?

The American political system has been exceptionally good to Intel Corporation, which earned $77.9 billion in revenue last year alone (Intel). Intel was founded in the United States and its headquarters are in California to this day. It’s hard to believe that anybody inside those buildings, from the cafeteria dishwashers to the CEO, thought that shredding the Constitution would help Intel make more money than it already does.

And when we’re thinking about corporate political donations, the bottom line is all that matters. Investors buy stocks in publicly-traded companies hoping to profit as the value of those companies, and their stocks, rises. Publicly-traded companies have a responsibility to become more valuable so that their investors are enriched as well, whether over the short term or long (Forbes). The point of any corporation is to make money for itself and for those who gamble on its success. The decisions taken by any rationally-managed company will be towards this one objective.

Last year, Intel gave over $500,000 to federal candidates. The majority were Republicans, but almost half were Democrats (Open Secrets). When you’re a multinational corporation whose profits can be influenced by innumerable governmental policies, it helps to have as many politicians on the payroll as you can. And even if you think one party might help more than the other, with that much cash, it can’t hurt to hedge your bets.

“Companies donate millions to political causes,” says Business Insider, “to have a say in government” (Business Insider). It’s not like Intel’s CEO decided to continue giving money to Republicans because he sincerely hoped Trump would be President-for-Life. But he knew that both Democrats and Republicans will continue voting on numerous issues that could affect Intel’s profit margin.

What’s true for political donations is true for other kinds of corporate giving as well. After the protests last summer, Target announced that it “stands with Black families, communities, and team members,” since improving its public image with the socially conscious might help it make more money. Target simultaneously donated over $3 million to the National Museum of Law Enforcement and continued to run a Minneapolis forensics lab to assist police officers, since these actions might help it make money as well (Business Insider). The issue isn’t that corporations are hypocritical or have divided loyalties. They only have loyalty to their bottom line, and every political contribution or public statement or charitable fund is a means to that end.

This means we have some leverage to change corporate behavior. If a company expects its donation to a right-wing politician will net it a certain amount of money, we only need to demonstrate that a negative public campaign will cost them an even greater amount of money should they follow through. This could take the shape of a direct action to hamper business operation, a boycott to reduce sales, or a public relations campaign that makes their products and brand less appealing. The objective of the Insurrection Incorporated campaign isn’t to make corporations grow a heart, but to convince them that supporting certain politicians can be extremely costly if enough people come together.

These actions can’t make companies moral or righteous or maybe even decent places to work. And they certainly can’t erase all the bad effects of a system where the most powerful actors are sprawling conglomerates maneuvering to enrich themselves at the expense of people and the planet. But even when our adversaries are powerful and wealthy beyond comprehension, and the action each of us takes might be very small, with enough of us we can make a real change.

We can take action once we really understand corporate donations.

Key Takeaways

  • Companies have continued to support Republican politicians even after the attempted coup.
  • Many of these companies also support Democrats, since corporate contributions are designed for profit maximization, not ideals.
  • This includes donations or statements in support of progressive causes, like Black Lives Matter.
  • We can stop bad corporate practices or contributions by making them more costly for companies than not.

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