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Corporate America Deserves No Applause, Yet

If Corporations really wanted to stand up for American democracy, they would permanently cease all political donations.

By Rachel Curley

Citigroup, American Express, Marathon Petroleum, and many other corporations earned headlines this month when they announced temporary suspensions of political donations following a slew of baseless objections from Members of Congress to the certification President-elect Biden, which gave oxygen to the mob that laid siege on the U.S. Capitol.

While these 147 lawmakers must reap the consequences of their votes against democracy, Corporate America’s PR scramble to place themselves on the right side of history is nothing but a smokescreen.

There are many ways corporations influence who ends up in power. A recent Public Citizen analysis found that Corporate America had bankrolled the campaigns of lawmakers who objected to the election results, but it’s actually outside Washington where special interests really get the most bang for their political buck.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which works to elect Republicans at the state level, has amassed vast sums of corporate and trade association donations in an unabashed effort to rig democracy in their own favor during this year’s redistricting process, when state legislators draw U.S. Congressional maps for the next decade. If past is precedent, these GOP-led legislatures will rig the maps yet again to keep hold of their power, even as their states become more purple.

Over the last decade, we have seen how these partisan-rigged legislatures push deeply anti-democratic agendas — disenfranchising Black and Brown voters through discriminatory voter ID laws, purging voting roles, repealing same-day voter registration, reducing early voting, and more. Where was corporate America’s outrage then?

Some of the companies now temporarily ceasing their political giving have funded the RSLC and, in turn, the RSLC’s efforts to disenfranchise voters. In the wake of the Capitol insurrection – and recent threats to state capitols nationwide — do these corporations who pledged to stop funding Congressmembers who opposed democracy also plan to stop spending at the state level, too? It’s so far unclear.

If Corporate America really wants to stand up for American democracy, not just express regret when we are at the brink of fascism, leaders should take their denouncements a step further by permanently ceasing all political donations, then they should throw their weight behind reforms that will give our democracy back to the people – a good starting point is supporting the For the People Act.

Just days before the attack on the Capitol, the House of Representatives introduced the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a much needed, sweeping set of reforms that would rebuild democracy from the ground up. It gets money out of politics, restores voting rights, makes our democracy more inclusive and representative of all people, and more.  Last week, Senate Democrats announced that the bill would be their first priority as well (S.1).

It’s time for Corporate America to reckon with its role in aiding and abetting a movement — and system — that has sought to undermine the voters’ voice in Washington and in state capitols. If Corporate America truly wants to commit to our democracy, its leaders must take their PR statements a step further and publicly voice their support for reforms, like the For the People Act, that will restore the power in our democracy to the people.