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Will Big Business Protect Democracy?

November 09, 2022
Zhao Li and Richard DiSalvo


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Zhao Li, an assistant professor at Princeton University, and Richard DiSalvo, a lecturer at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, analyze PAC contributions after January 6, 2021. 

Fueled by unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election result. On the same day, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to object to electoral college counts.

In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, corporate America was under tremendous pressure to cut off campaign contributions to these “Republican objectors.” This mirrors a broader trend in public opinion: people across many countries, including in the United States, increasingly expect large companies to speak up about contentious socio-political challenges.

In January and February 2021, CNN surveyed 280 companies on the Fortune 500 list that contributed to Republican objectors’ campaigns in 2019–2020 through their corporate political action committees (PACs). One hundred and fifty-seven surveyed companies declined to announce any changes in their PAC contributions post-insurrection. This wasn’t a surprise to scholars who study corporate money in US politics—companies have traditionally viewed PAC contributions as a means to buy lobbying access and regulatory favors from policymakers rather than an expression of corporate advocacy. What was unprecedented, however, was the number of America’s largest companies that did respond affirmatively to the CNN survey: 87 companies promised a pause in all federal giving, and 36 companies specifically pledged to withhold PAC contributions from Republican objectors.

Why did some companies pledge to boycott Republican objectors in their PAC contributions rather than remain silent or announce a blanket pause in PAC contributions? Moreover, which firms have actually reduced their PAC contributions to Republican objectors since 2021?

In our forthcoming publication in the American Political Science Review, we show that corporate stakeholders—e.g., employees, consumers, and shareholders—can influence their corporations’ PAC contributions. Many stakeholders expect corporate PACs to support politicians who align with their partisanship or ideology.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.