Five prominent players in Washington state business are halting or reviewing some or all of their campaign contributions after last week’s U.S. Capitol riot and the refusal by some Republicans to certify the presidential election results.
Redmond-based Microsoft said on Monday it had suspended contributions by its political action committee, whose recent recipients have included several of the eight U.S. senators and 139 U.S. representatives who voted against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the Electoral College.
Seattle-based Amazon, another donor to some Republican “objectors,” said it had “suspended contributions to any Member of Congress who voted to override the results of the US Presidential election.”
Washington Realtors, a trade group, also said Monday it would temporarily suspend all political contributions, including those to its national organization, which has donated to five of the eight Republican senators who objected.
Two other Washington state firms that have donated to Republican objectors — Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA and Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, said Monday they were evaluating their PAC policies but declined to say if they would continue to support objectors. Early Tuesday morning, however, a T-Mobile spokesperson said the company “has already suspended all of our PAC distributions, pending our reevaluation of our PAC giving.”
The announcements echoed moves by other prominent U.S. firms and trade groups and mark a significant escalation in businesses’ criticism of the Trump administration and many Republican lawmakers for not accepting the results of the election.
Although corporate America often makes symbolic objections to anti-democratic political behavior, companies’ new willingness to penalize Republicans financially “put some teeth in it, no question about it,” said Lawrence Parnell, an expert in strategic public relations at George Washington University.
Still, many firms remain publicly undecided. Two firms that have large presences in Washington state and that also contributed to Republican objectors — Chicago-based Boeing and Bellevue-based Paccar — declined to comment about their political spending.
And some experts warned that PAC contributions are just a fraction of the money corporations funnel to politicians. Case in point: another Amazon-backed group, the nonprofit Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), has drawn pointed criticism for its role in boosting turnout at the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
The action on political spending may have been partly spurred by the newsletter Popular Information, which recently surveyed 144 corporations that had made PAC contributions during the 2020 election cycle to one or more of the eight senators who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
Microsoft announced it “will not make any political donations until after it assesses the implications of last week’s events.”
In the 2019-20 campaign cycle, Microsoft’s PAC contributed to two of the eight GOP senators who opposed certification: Josh Hawley of Missouri and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, according to federal campaign finance disclosures.
Microsoft also gave $50,000 to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, between 2016 and 2020. McMorris Rodgers signed a legal brief supporting a Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn Biden’s electoral victory, but ultimately supported certification of the electoral college vote.
Amazon, after initially declining to comment, said it would not only stop donating to objectors, but that it also planned to “discuss our concerns directly with those Members we have previously supported and will evaluate their responses as we consider future PAC contributions.”
Amazon has given modestly to the campaigns of four of the eight senators and many of the 139 representatives who voted to overturn the Electoral College results.
Amazon, Washington’s largest employer, has also given to McMorris Rodgers in the last four years, and last year donated $11,000 to Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who similarly signed on to the Texas lawsuit but ultimately voted in favor of certification.
T-Mobile also appeared to shift its PAC policy, noting on Tuesday that had halted all PAC distributions while those policies were reevaluated, though the company offered few specifics.
In the 2019-2020 campaign cycle, T-Mobile’s PAC contributed to Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, federal campaign finance records show. The company also gave $20,000 to McMorris Rodgers last year.
Weyerhaeuser said it “unequivocally condemn[ed] the violence we witnessed last Wednesday,” but added that it hadn’t “made any decisions yet about the upcoming election cycle.” During the 2019-2020 cycle, the company’s employee PAC contributed to campaigns for Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi and Rick Scott of Florida.
Other companies declined to say whether their PAC contributions would change in light of last week’s events.
Paccar declined to comment on future contributions by its employee PAC, PEOPLE PAC, which gave to the campaigns of at least two of the eight senate objectors — Cruz and Hyde-Smith — during the 2019-2020 cycle.
Boeing, which has contributed to the campaigns of Cruz, Hyde-Smith, Kennedy and Roger Marshall of Kansas, as well as those of McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse, since 2016, also declined to comment. According to Open Secrets, Boeing was ranked 20th among donors who contributed to objecting lawmakers, with a total of $662,701 given during the 2020 cycle.
Parnell said companies’ campaign spending decisions likely were motivated by the reputational damage of being associated with Republican objectors and by pushback from their own employees.
Microsoft, for example, faced heavy pressure from employees over its political contributions, according to a report in Business Insider. The Microsoft spokesperson said the company’s PAC “regularly pauses its donations in the first quarter of a new Congress, but it will take additional steps this year to consider these recent events and consult with employees.”
Parnell said companies may also have been worried about how the Republican resistance might affect the business environment. Political “instability at the national level is not helpful for a recovering economy,” he said.
But Jacob Grumbach, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington and an expert in campaign finance, warned against giving companies too much credit for recent moves on political spending. He said that PAC contributions pale against the sums companies funnel into the political system via intermediaries such the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or RAGA.
Amazon donated $100,000 last year to RAGA, which played a role in organizing the Jan. 6 protest-turned-insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
RAGA’s political fundraising arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund — which is not required to disclose its donors but shares funding, space and staff with the attorneys general group — made robocalls urging people to march on the Capitol last week to protest the presidential election results.
The Rule of Law Defense Fund has denied involvement in organizing the ensuing riot, linked to five deaths.
“It’s meaningful that [some companies] are committed to not spend PAC money on these Republican members,” Grumbach said. “But the bigger thing would be to … commit to not spending this sort of money on intermediary industry groups that then may spend on Republicans.”
Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to reflect T-Mobile’s statement Tuesday morning that the company has suspended PAC contributions.