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After hitting pause, PACs begin to press play again

Businesses reviewed donation policies after Jan. 6 riot

Business PACs, many of which paused donations earlier this year amid fallout from the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, have begun to send more money to lawmakers, including to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the presidential election results of some states.

Political action committees from defense, agriculture and other business sectors have led in donations to such lawmakers, including to House GOP leaders and rank-and-file members on committees that regulate their industries, a CQ Roll Call analysis of campaign finance data shows.

Still, PAC money is down. Donations to both parties’ House and Senate campaign arms dropped significantly in the first four months of this year when compared with the same period in the previous two election cycles, federal election records show.

PACs, for example, sent $3.7 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the first four months of 2017 but only $1.3 million in the same period this year — a 65 percent decrease. PAC donations through April 30 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were also down, from $2.6 million in 2017 to $1.8 million this year. Such committees, however, have seen their overall fundraising stay high, making up for lost PAC money with individual contributions.

PACs sharply curbed donations to the Senate committees. The National Republican Senatorial Committee collected $9.2 million from PACs in the first four months of 2017, when the GOP was in the majority and preparing with the White House to overhaul the tax code. But it took in just $1.5 million in such donations in the same period this year, an 84 percent drop.

In-person events resuming

Representatives of business and industry PACs say their coffers are slowly beginning to open back up — and, they say, they expect a more robust return to political giving heading into the summer and fall. Not only have many PACs decided to reengage after Jan. 6, but lawmakers and candidates are also increasingly returning to in-person fundraising events, luring corporate and lobbying interests eager to mingle.

“Recovering from the pandemic and grappling with the January 6 attack on the Capitol is taking time,” Micaela Isler, executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees, said in an emailed statement. “Through town halls, focus groups and other outreach, companies and business associations have utilized this time to field thoughtful input from the men and women who support their PACs.”

PACs of companies and industry associations get their money from executives deemed qualified to donate and not from corporate funds, although companies do pay staff to run their PACs.

“Employees continue to believe their company and trade association PACs are important ways for them to exercise their civic duty and provide support to lawmakers who will advocate for their jobs, industries, and communities,” Isler said.

Last month, the top business and industry PACs contributing to the 147 GOP lawmakers were major defense contractors such as General Dynamics, as well as Duke Energy, American Crystal Sugar Co. and PACs connected with the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Realtors.

Realtors ‘will continue to engage’

The Realtors’ PAC “is proud to be one of the largest, most bipartisan political action committees in the country and will continue to engage in a bipartisan way on behalf of our 1.4 million members,” the group said in a statement. “Following a recent meeting of the RPAC Board of Trustees, our association lifted the temporary pause that was previously put in place on all federal political disbursements. This decision will ensure we continue to engage with political candidates in an effort to support America’s homeowners and our nation’s real estate industry.”

Duke Energy, similarly, said it had phased out its pause.

“Engaging with policymakers on both sides of the aisle is critical as we progress our clean energy transformation,” company spokesperson Neil Nissan said in an email. “Our pause on federal political giving allowed us an opportunity to be reflective about a significant and troubling event in our nation, as well as how we support candidates and elected officials.”

Some companies, though, have said they will freeze out lawmakers who voted against the electoral results. JPMorgan Chase, for example, said it was resuming its giving but not to such members, according to Reuters.

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Corporations, vulnerable to consumer and shareholder pressure, have had to calculate their competing political risks. Making donations to the 147 lawmakers may subject them to boycotts or public relations problems, but withholding contributions may limit their interactions with GOP leaders, who could regain the majority in the House or the Senate in next year’s midterm elections.

Members who voted against certifying the Electoral College results from Pennsylvania and Arizona, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, were among the top recipients of contributions from business PACs in April.

Arms maker gave the most

So was Missouri GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who serves on the House Agriculture and Armed Services committees and is expected to announce a Senate bid in the coming days for retiring Republican Roy Blunt’s seat.

Hartzler, who is the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, got $5,000 last month from General Dynamics. The company, whose products include tactical vehicles, rockets and machine guns, gave the most — $51,500 — in April of all business PACs donating to members who were among the 147 objectors to electoral votes, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The Associated Builders and Contractors disclosed donations to several lawmakers who voted against certifying electoral results, including McCarthy and Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

“Associated Builders and Contractors believes in the foundations of democracy, which include free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power,” Kristen Swearingen, the group’s vice president of legislative and political affairs, said in a statement. “ABC actively engages in the political process to advance policies that better the individual, the industry and the nation through fair and open competition. We embrace the diversity of ideas that powers American prosperity by advancing productivity, innovation and individual freedoms, and we look forward to continuing to participate in that process.”

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