PACs Toughen Criteria as They Move to Resume Political Donations

  • Polls show corporate giving policies changing after Jan. 6
  • Some may ban donations to those who foment violence

A number of corporate PACs are tightening their donation standards including barring contributions to candidates who foment violence as they move to resume giving after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

Surveys by two business groups suggest political action committees are revamping their donation policies but are hesitant to impose long-term giving bans on all the 147 GOP lawmakers who objected to the election of President Joe Biden.

The National Association of Business Political Action Committees, or NABPAC, polled its members about their plans for political giving this cycle and found that 55% of the respondents “envision making changes to candidates and committees they support this cycle.”

Nearly 70% of those surveyed reported halting their PAC operations at least temporarily after the January insurrection. They used the time since to hold focus groups, have PAC board meetings, and one-on-one conversations with employees and shareholders.

But the pauses in contributions, including to those who challenged the election, may not last much longer.

“The vast majority are in a place where they feel they can either move forward or they’re making changes per those conversations, per the board decisions,” said Micaela Isler, the executive director of NABPAC. “We’ll start to see kind of a gradual increase in giving starting this quarter.”

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, some political action committees are considering changes to their giving policies, including banning contributions to candidates who foment violence.

The main considerations for resuming contributions were input from the corporation or association’s lobbying team and a vote to restart by the PAC board, according to the NABPAC poll. About 100 of the group’s 255 members responded to the survey.

The most common changes for NABPAC respondents were to add “values/integrity” criteria to the candidates they support, and roughly one-fourth “decided upon a list of candidates who would no longer receive support.”

The Public Affairs Council recently surveyed its members and found similar results. About half of the 55 corporate and trade association PACs that responded said they made changes to contribution criteria while 13% responded they are still evaluating the guidelines around their political donations.

The most common criteria changes are “updating criteria to include language specifying not supporting candidates who foment or celebrate violence; adding ethics and integrity standards; a shared commitment to the democratic process; promoting civility, moderation and compromise,” according to Kristin Brackemyre, the director of PAC and government relations for the Public Affairs Council. The survey was sent to 1,000 PAC, government relations, and grassroots professionals.

Giving Drop

PAC giving to incumbents dropped 40% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in the 2020 election cycle. Republicans experienced the brunt of the decrease, with GOP lawmakers experiencing a roughly 50% drop from the first quarter in 2019. PAC donations to Democratic incumbents, meanwhile, dropped 29%.

Some of the largest PACs, including those associated with Boeing Co., Marathon Petroleum Corp., UnitedHealth Group Inc., and Amgen Inc., made no political contributions during the first three months of the year, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by Bloomberg Government. Those PACs made a combined $1.4 million in political contributions during the same period in the 2020 cycle.

Read More:PAC Giving to GOP Dives as Companies Retrench After Jan. 6 Riots

In the Public Affairs Council poll, 53% said they were reviewing donations to the election objectors on a “case-by-case” basis, while 32% reported temporarily suspending contributions to those members. Only 7% responded that they would not give to the 147 Republicans for the entire 2022 election cycle. More than one-third hadn’t determined a timeline for how long they’d be pausing donations to that group, and 13% said they’d resume after the second quarter.

Fluid Process

Isler said political contributions — and the decisions that inform them — will be a “very fluid process.”

“Just because an organization gave a check in a previous election cycle has never guaranteed that that same candidate would get a check again,” Isler said. “It’s sort of like the dating analogy — you’re trying to develop a relationship, and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t.”

One company that initially halted contributions, JetBlue Airways Corp., defended its decision to reverse course and contribute to a House member who objected to certifying the election by saying it would resume donations to candidates relevant to its business.

Read More: JetBlue Cites Business Ties in Donations to Election Objector

“Most PACs have a plan for moving forward and as they restart their activities they are focused on communicating that to their internal PAC members and eligible employees,” Brackemyre said. “It’s impossible to please everyone in this process, but PACs are in a good place in terms of gathering feedback, addressing internal questions or concerns and communicating future plans.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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