Saturday, May 18, 2024

American businesses are appalled by Donald Trump, but for how long?

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In February 2018, the CEO of one of America’s best-known multinationals wondered why so many business people were depressed about Donald Trump.

The US president has already lied several times, praised white supremacists who marched through Charlottesville and violently attacked people and businesses on Twitter. But that CEO was focused on something else: Mr. Trump had just proposed a huge corporate tax cut and was overturning the regulations. “There’s a lot of noise, but it’s been great,” he told a group of Financial Times reporters.

This unofficial rally was on my mind as American businesses struggled to distance themselves from Mr. Trump and his Republican supporters whose claims that a stolen election fueled last week’s violent attack on the Capitol. Now that windows have been smashed, offices looted, and people have died, America’s big business cannot act fast enough to speak out about what happened and say they had no idea such a thing. disaster was coming.

The Marriott hotel chain, chemical company Dow, and financial groups American Express and Morgan Stanley have also said they are stop donations lawmakers whose opposition to the outcome of the presidential election contributed to the unrest. The Kansas City-based Hallmark greeting card group demanded its money from local Senators Josh Hawley and Robert Marshall, who were among 147 Republicans who voted against certification of Joe Biden’s election after the riot.

Even Blackstone co-founder Steve Schwarzman, who donated $ 355,000 to the Trump Victory Fund and $ 325,000 to election objectors, had had enough. “I am shocked and horrified by this mob’s attempt to undermine our constitution. As I said in November, the election result is very clear and there must be a peaceful transition of power ”. he said.

All of this raises two questions: what took them so long, and will their disgust last? Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account “because of the risk of further incitement to violenceBut only after telling the Capitol crowd “we love you” and declaring that his supporters “will not be looked down upon or treated unfairly in any way !!! “

Amazon stopped providing hosting services to the social network Parler, and Google and Apple have removed its application from their stores. Yet it only came after far-right supporters used it to plan the attack on Capitol Hill and post messages that “clearly encourage and incite violence.”

Stripe said he would no longer process payments for the campaign apparatus of Mr. Trump and the PGA of America withdrew its 2022 championship from a Trump golf course. Both steps will affect his post-presidential portfolio, but will come months after he first emblazoned false allegations of rigged elections.

Corporate political donation promises can also be much less than it looks. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Facebook and Microsoft have suspended all donations from their Political Action Committees, or PACs. But these blanket pledges come at the start of the next election cycle, when few candidates are actively fundraising. They may not last.

They also do not distinguish between individuals or parties. Democrats won the election and defended the results. As for the GOP, it is absurd to put Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski who publicly challenged Mr. Trump, with the opportunists who refused to certify the election.

In addition, the influence of American companies on the elections goes far beyond donations to individual candidates. Industry groups representing bankers, real estate agents, auto dealers and beer wholesalers were among the biggest donors to these 147 Republicans. Since the Supreme Court lifted the caps on election spending for “independent” businesses, significant spending has gone directly to advertising rather than candidates.

Many companies now claim to look beyond profits to a larger social goal. The next few months will put that to the test. Democrats want to raise taxes and regulate more tightly, but they control Congress by the smallest of margins. The CEO I met in 2018 was happy to take a tax cut even though it came with praise for violent racists. How many of those who make godly announcements today would do the same job again?

Right now, they could change their position tomorrow and no one would be wiser. Investors should therefore intervene. Last year, the shareholders submitted 76 proposals asking for better disclosure of lobbying and political donations, up from 101 in 2019, according to consultants Georgeson. This must change.

Follow Brooke Masters with myFT and on Twitter


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