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After hitting pause, PACs begin to press play again

Roll Call logo Roll Call 6/7/2021 Kate Ackley
Rep. Vicky Hartzler talks with a member of the Delaware National Guard in the Capitol Visitor Center on Jan. 13. She is one of the members who voted against certifying Electoral College results on Jan. 6 and received PAC contributions last month from a defense contractor. © Provided by Roll Call Rep. Vicky Hartzler talks with a member of the Delaware National Guard in the Capitol Visitor Center on Jan. 13. She is one of the members who voted against certifying Electoral College results on Jan. 6 and received PAC contributions last month from a defense contractor.

Business PACs, many of which paused donations earlier this year amid fallout from the violent Jan. 6 Capitol attack, 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 also were down, from $2.6 million in 2017 to $1.8 million this year. Fundraising overall to such committees, however, has been 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 just $1.5 million in such donations in the same period this year. That’s 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 also are 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,” said Micaela Isler, executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees. “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 in an emailed statement.

Last month, the top business and industry PACs contributing to the 147 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. JP Morgan Chase, for example, said it was resuming its giving but not to such members, according to Reuters.

Corporations, vulnerable to consumer and shareholder pressure, have had to calculate their competing political risks. Making donations to the 147 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 Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican on the House Agriculture and Armed Services panels who is expected to announce a bid in the coming days for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of GOP Sen. Roy Blunt.

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, North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx 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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