GOP Senators Swear Off ‘Woke’ Corporate PAC Dollars

Photo: Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Photo Credit: Josh Hawley / Facebook & Ted Cruz / Facebook

Published May 13, 2021

By Alyce McFadden [The Center for Responsive Politics] –

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) renounced corporate PAC contributions, several months after nearly 100 corporations announced plans to sever PAC support for the pair of lawmakers following their objections to the legitimacy of November’s presidential election.

The GOP senators’ no-corporate PAC pledges are the latest manifestations of the growing rift between corporate America and the Republican party it historically supported.

U.S. Capitol Building At Night

In early January, a long list of businesses announced that they would pause their PAC contributions to lawmakers, including Hawley and Cruz, who voted against certifying the presidential election following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Some companies have walked back their pledges already, but GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying the presidential election collectively raised $6.7 million less during the first quarter of 2021 than during the same period in 2019.

The tipping point for Cruz and Hawley came when big businesses including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball denounced a GOP-backed law in Georgia that critics say will make it harder for Georgians, especially people of color, to vote.

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal under the title, “Your Woke Money is No Good Here,” Cruz announced that he will no longer accept campaign support from corporate PACs. “For too long, woke CEOs have been fair-weather friends to the Republican Party: They like us until the left’s digital pitchforks come out,” Cruz wrote.

Hawley followed Cruz’s lead the next day, tweeting that corporations “ship our jobs to China, mock middle America’s way of life, try to control our speech and run our lives.”

The two senators are also advocating for retaliatory policies to hit back at businesses that criticized GOP-backed policies. “It’s time we stood up to them. I won’t take corporate PAC donations & I’ll fight to break up their monopoly power,” Hawley wrote.

Between his first election cycle in 2017 and the end of the 2020 cycle, Hawley took in approximately $753,000 from business PACs, with nearly 57 percent of his total career fundraising from PACs. Cruz’s pledge means the Texas senator will make a much greater sacrifice. Throughout his career, 73 percent of PAC contributions to Cruz’s congressional campaigns came from business. That’s a total of $2.4 million in contributions between 2011 and the end of 2020.

During the first three months of 2021, both lawmakers garnered significant support from individual supporters, whose donations have helped fill the fundraising hole created by the absence of corporate PAC money.

Cruz picked up $2.4 million from donors giving $200 or less, making up approximately 73 percent of his overall first-quarter haul. Hawley brought in $1.7 million from small donors, slightly more than 58 percent of his first quarter total.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), also renounced corporate PAC money at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February. “Irrespective of which party is in power, the winner in Congress is often the special interest that shuttles the most money to political campaigns,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz, Hawley and Cruz are still outliers within the Republican party. Weighing in on corporate political influence in early April, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told corporations to “stay out of politics,” before clarifying, “I’m not talking about political contributions.” “Most of them contribute to both sides, they have political action committees, that’s fine. It’s legal, it’s appropriate, I support that. I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state, because you don’t like a particular law that passed, I just think it’s stupid,” he continued.

McConnell has long opposed curtailing the power of big businesses and deep-pocketed donors. In 2020 alone, he raised $4.3 million from business PACs, making him the No. 1 overall recipient of business PAC money currently seated in Congress. Business PACs give more to Republicans than Democrats, though the disparity between the two parties has narrowed since 2016. In 2020, business PACs gave $215 million to Republican candidates and $163 million to Democrats. 

According to Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications at End Citizens United, the GOP is still a long way from prioritizing legislation to curb the influence of corporate money in politics.

“I think that some Republicans are starting to recognize that this is an important issue to voters, and that it’s a bad idea to be on the wrong side of getting money out of politics,” Bozzi said. “And you’re starting to see a little of that in their political messaging, but they’re not doing anything to fix the problem.”

No Republicans have indicated that they might consider supporting Democrats’ signature campaign finance bill, the For the People Act, which would empower small dollar donors through a federal public financing system. In fact, Cruz called the bill “the single most dangerous piece of legislation before Congress” in an interview with Fox News.

Cruz has also opposed narrower pieces of legislation aimed at reducing corporate influence in elections. In 2019, he sued the FEC in an effort to raise the amount of money wealthy donors can spend to help candidates pay off campaign debt.

During the 2020 election cycle, 155 Democratic candidates vowed not to accept contributions from corporate PACs. Corporate money can still find its way into campaign coffers by a number of routes. Some candidates in tight races renounced corporate money but took large sums from leadership PACs, which are often funded by big business contributions.

Adam Eichen, executive director of Equal Citizen, doesn’t expect Cruz and Hawley to begin to advocate for policies geared at getting money out of politics. “I will say that the fact they feel it’s necessary to even make an effort to express frustration with our broken campaign finance system shows just how salient this issue has become with the American people, including the GOP base,” Eichen wrote in an email to OpenSecrets.

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