CEO Voices: Facts Vs. Fantasy

A year after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, much of the media's analysis of corporate political giving has been woefully misleading.

A year after the worst assault on the Capitol since 1812, the companies that pledged to use their political influence to defend democracy in its aftermath are under fire. ABC News, CBS and PBS have all trumpeted an Associated Press story charging that Fortune 500 CEOs’ commitment to withholding funding from lawmakers who voted against certifying the 2020 election results were “empty promises.” Yet, concern among big business remains very much alive. 

In fact, just this past December, when I gathered roughly 200 CEOs, U.S. senators, governors and policy experts to debate the matter, I didn’t hear a lack of concern. Furthermore, a closer look at the data being bandied about to support the allegation that a vast swath of companies are reneging on their post-assault pledges reveals exactly the opposite. 

“GOP Election Objectors Rake in Corporate Cash,” a recent high-profile piece in The Hill, is emblematic of how proliferating voting-rights advocates are creating confusion for CEOs looking for yardsticks for comparison and adding to the fingerpointing within their ranks. The article showcased the misguided conclusions of Accountable.US, a liberal watchdog group that charged Fortune 500 firms with “quietly resuming” their political giving to GOP election objectors.

The reality? Even though the moratorium on corporate political donations was only temporary, a deeper analysis of the actual FEC data for Q1, Q2 and Q3 shows that consistent compliance has ranged between 80 percent and 95 percent. The Q4 data is, of course, not out yet. While a handful of companies, including Boeing, did renege, the remarkable consistency—rather than those exceptions—should be the headline.

This most recent discussion showcases the perhaps intentional apples-and-oranges data confusion, likely due to underlying suspicion of corporations on the left. Skeptical media pieces pronouncing their failure flowed immediately after the commitments were made in early January 2021, before any of the FEC data came out each quarter to prove them wrong. As Mark Twain advised, “the reports of my death are premature.” 

The money line and focal point in the article in The Hill seems to be “less than a year after Jan. 6th attacks, PACs associated with Fortune 500 companies and their trade groups have contributed $6.8 million to the 147 republicans who objected.” At first blush, $6.8 million sounds impressive, but some Congressional members haul that much in on their own. Spread among 147 members, it’s a far less impressive sum—one that actually reflects diminished giving. 

In fact, $6.8 million is less than 1.5 percent of Congressional donor support and less than one-third of one percent of total donor support to both parties this year. Corporate gifts are down, overwhelmed in magnitude by individual donor support, which currently accounts for 82 percent of Democratic Congressional candidate funding and 78.7 percent of Republican funding. 

What’s more, many companies are finding themselves compelled to move beyond campaign contributions to weigh in on political and social issues directly. As Michael Dell recently stated, “If corporations cannot speak out on voting access and ballot security, what can they address?” At a recent National Investor Relations Institute forum, SVP JJ Davis explained that Dell considers four questions when deciding whether to engage in over 100 social issues that it tracks: 1) the impact on Dell’s brand and reputation (alignment with core values and past positions); 2) the external impact on key constituencies and the positions of peers; 3) the ramifications for public policy makers and 4) the ESG sentiment of employees.

Companies must make their own calls on taking stances on national and local social issues. But whatever a firm decides regarding social issues, CEOs and boards need to answer key questions based on objective facts, not ideologically-based fantasy.


MORE LIKE THIS

  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events

    Roundtable

    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    We are in a period of rapid change. Customer needs, technologies, competitors and internal capabilities require companies to review and update their strategies for the new realities. In this workshop, strategy experts Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison will show you a systematic approach to strategic planning to help you refine or redefine your business strategy and approach including:

    • Learn what you need to know to develop an effective strategic plan. Put the right players on the strategic planning team.
    • Develop strategies that leverage your company’s unique position in the marketplace. Lift your management team beyond “business as usual” thought processes and activities.
    • Translate your strategies into action. Achieve your vision for success and generate superior financial results.
    • Identify exactly what you need to do now to position your company for future success.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.