Faith-based investors urge companies to rethink political spending after attack on Capitol, caution against return to “business as usual”

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

February 3, 2021

Following the January 6 attack on the Capitol, several large companies—Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Commerce Bancshares—announced a suspension of donations to members of Congress who voted against election certification. More than half of the Republicans in Congress voted to block certification of the election just hours after the Capitol siege.

Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Airbnb, Mastercard, Verizon, and Dow also announced a suspension of political donations. Financial institutions—JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo—said they suspended donations through their Political Action Committees (PACs).

January 28, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of investors representing over $2 trillion in assets under management that engages companies on environmental, social, and governance issues, released a statement it sent to the CEO members of the Business Roundtable (BRT) urging them to refrain from political spending for six months in order to allow for a thorough assessment of its inherent risks. The Christian Citizen is published by American Baptist Home Mission Societies, a founding member of ICCR.

The investors urged corporations to use the hiatus to consider taking steps to permanently end all political spending including through direct donations to politicians, PACs, Super PACs, 527 committees or anonymously through trade associations and “social welfare” organizations (also known as 501(c)(4) groups). The statement was sent to CEO members of the BRT and is being circulated to investors for endorsement.

According to the statement, “The distortion of public policy and corrupting influence on our political system caused by corporate political spending has a destabilizing effect on the broader economic and cultural environment, inhibiting the long-term sustainability of business and threatening to unravel the social fabric.”

“While companies may perceive a short-term gain from funneling money to elected officials, the reputational risk that they face and, more critically, the corrosive effect on democracy of corporate money in politics should give them pause,” said Josh Zinner, ICCR’s CEO. “January 6th should have sounded the alarm: it is vitally important for companies to carefully evaluate the problematic impacts of their political spending.” 

The January 6 attack on the Capitol revealed the fragility of our democracy. When it comes to corporate political spending, ICCR investors believe a return to “business as usual” is something we can longer afford.

The statement encourages corporations to “reconsider how their political activities have been reinforcing and undermining the ideals of democracy, and the fulfillment of their social contract” and asks companies to consider how the current campaign finance system “may undermine authentic democracy and civic engagement, and have a corrupting effect influence on elected officials.”

The statement further calls on corporations to consider a permanent moratorium on political spending at the federal, state and local level, as well as an end to the flow of corporate “dark” money to political nonprofit groups that accept contributions to influence elections but are under no legal obligation to disclose their donors. This lack of disclosure makes it harder for journalists, regulators, and opponents to detect violations of campaign finance law, such as illegal contributions from foreign donors or government contractors and contributions over the legal limit.

A soon to be published analysis of 2020 election cycle spending from the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) found particularly partisan company-connected political spending, which runs counter to the popular narrative of bipartisan giving. Just seven companies gave more than $7 million to two Super PACs that overwhelmingly funded attacks on Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. Si2 also found that the vast majority of corporate-connected political contributions went to Republicans in the South (79% of state candidates and 69% of state party giving) and Midwest (64%).

“This could be an epiphany moment for companies,” said Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability. “The level of risk they face from political spending has grown exponentially. New policies, including a code of conduct for political spending, are required to guide their decision-making and risk-evaluation as they consider how their spending impacts their companies, society and our democracy.” 

The January 6 attack on the Capitol revealed the fragility of our democracy. When it comes to corporate political spending, ICCR investors believe a return to “business as usual” is something we can longer afford.

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen and The Christian Citizen Weekly and host of the Justice. Mercy. Faith. podcast. His book #InThisTogether: Ministry in Times of Crisis is available from Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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