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Corporate political donations slowly returning a year after Jan. 6 insurrection
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Today is the anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year. The actions of Jan. 6 had a big influence on corporate political giving, which largely dried up in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection. But over the past year, corporate giving has picked up again.
Corporations can make political donations through a company’s political action committee or PAC, said Paul Washington at the Conference Board.
“There are about 1,500 Corporate PACS in America. And the vast majority of them suspended some, or all, of their contributions, in the wake of the events of Jan. 6,” he said.
A new survey from the Conference Board and the National Association of Business Political Action Committees found that in the time since, about three quarters of those companies have started giving again.
But, Washington said they’re being cautious.
“They really need to link their corporate political activity to a corporate purpose and to a broader social purpose,” he said.
That’s because corporations are under a lot of pressure to respond to their staff who might not agree with a political donation.
“Their employees have been driving the need for the corporation to speak out in the first place, and politics is one of the key things that employees are keyed into,” said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth.
Argenti said that’s one reason why a quarter of companies that paused corporate donations last year haven’t started giving again.
“That’s a big deal, you know that’s not something to gloss over and say it’s business as usual,” he said.
But corporations have other ways to make political contributions. Anna Massoglia at OpenSecrets said companies can give money to nonprofits and trade associations. They can also give to so-called “dark money groups,” which aren’t required to reveal their donors.
“With dark money groups, you don’t have anywhere near the level of disclosures, as the spending through corporate PACS, or as political contributions, generally,” she said.
Massoglia adds that shareholders have been pushing corporations to avoid that kind of political giving. And it’s not clear whether giving to dark money groups has picked up in the last year.
“Because they can choose not to voluntarily disclose that information,” she said.
The Conference Board found that almost half of corporations think political contributions this year will be even more challenging than in 2021.
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