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In support of political contributions




Most Americans don’t want CEOs involved in politics. A poll conducted last week by Golin and Ipsos found that only 41% supported CEOs weighing in on contested elections, and only 43% wanted them to vote on impeachment. On the other hand, 74% say CEOs should call for unity and a peaceful transfer of power, and 57% think it was appropriate for CEOs to speak out after the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill. This fits pretty well with how most CEOs and business groups have behaved since election day. They kept their powder dry until all legitimate avenues to contest the election were exhausted, then came out strongly endorsing the election results and attacking efforts to undermine them. Relatively few supported impeachment. (You can see the poll results here.)

But what about political contributions? This is the question raised last week, as a group of companies – Marriott, AT&T, American Express, Best buy, Cisco, Comcast, Dow and Amazon among them – suspended campaign contributions to members of Congress who contested the election results. Another large group – Microsoft, Boeing, Black rock, Coke, JP Morgan, Ford, GM, UPS, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup – temporarily halted all political contributions to members of both parties. (Quartz has a more comprehensive list of what companies have done here.)

Some business leaders are even considering shutting down their political action committees for good and getting out of the money game altogether. But in the absence of a broader campaign finance overhaul – which is unlikely anytime soon – I think that’s a mistake. Most large corporations remain balanced players in the money game, dividing their dollars roughly equally among members of each party. Walmart, for example, kept its contributions at exactly 50-50. Their strategies have less to do with trying to influence the outcome, but more to ensuring they have access to whoever wins.

The most important question for 2021 is how large companies are using this access. There are a host of issues for which businesses have the potential to help deliver positive outcomes for the American economy and society: economic recovery, infrastructure, worker training, climate change. On each one, business leaders take center stage and can help bring the parties together to resolve pressing issues.

But on tax and regulatory issues, in particular, businesses will play the defense. And they will be tempted to use whatever influence they can wield to seek tax breaks and regulatory exemptions that are not in the general public interest. This is where the stakeholder commitment to capitalism will be tested. The nation is in desperate need of the companies involved in government. But companies, more than ever, must use their influence to focus on solving long-term challenges.

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Alan murray





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