Breakingviews - Billionaire donors outrank companies in Washington

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen at night in Washington, U.S., December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Billionaire donors hold more sway than companies in the increasingly expensive business of Washington elections. Firms from JPMorgan to AT&T are rethinking political donations after last week’s Capitol violence. But it’s people like the late Sheldon Adelson and Mike Bloomberg who have far deeper pockets.

The storming of the seat of U.S. government has spurred a sea change in corporate America. AT&T, the biggest company spender in the last election cycle, said on Monday that it is suspending political donations to Republican lawmakers who objected without evidence to the November presidential election, in which Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. Others, like JPMorgan, paused their giving altogether to reassess their strategy.

If the funding hiatus continues, that will hurt Republicans, especially, as they seek to gain majorities in Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. Through political action committees, or PACs, AT&T contributed more than $2.6 million to candidates in the last cycle while JPMorgan doled out about $1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But wealthy individuals give far more. Casino mogul Adelson, who died on Monday, and his wife Miriam were the top contributors for the 2020 election, spending $218 million to back Republicans. Bloomberg came in second with $152 million to support Democrats.

An end or pause in spending by these billionaires would have a big direct impact on candidates. Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman gave $20 million to the Senate Leadership Fund in the months leading up to the November election and then handed out another $15 million to the group to help two Republican candidates in this month’s Georgia runoff races for the upper chamber, which collectively cost more than $830 million. Democrats ended up winning, splitting the Senate 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris set to cast tie-breaking votes.

One Republican feeling heat is Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who spearheaded the challenge to the election results and showed support for Trump supporters before they ransacked the Capitol. Hallmark Cards said it had asked Hawley to return $7,000 in PAC donations over the last two years. But that pales compared to the $250,000 that Citadel’s Ken Griffin gave to a so-called super PAC that supported him in his 2018 Senate bid. Taking that kind of money out of campaigns would really make candidates sit up and listen.


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