Is Corporate Money Threatening the Progressive Agenda in Congress?

Last month, many major corporations decided to pause political campaign donations after the violent coup attempt on January 6. Some decided to pause their PAC donations to only the Republicans who voted to overturn the election that day, and some decided to pause their PAC donations altogether.

Now that decision is facing backlash from both sides of the aisle, The Wall Street Journal reports. Democrats and Republicans who voted to uphold the results of the election feel that they’re being unfairly punished, according to the article.

But in their reporting, Journal reporters also uncovered something more sinister: Aides to both congressional Democrats and Republicans said that stopping cash flow from corporations would make them less likely to fight against progressive legislation. In other words, the money is allegedly an essential part of a quid pro quo: When corporations give money to these politicians, they will be more motivated to speak out against and help kill progressive policy.

“Congressional aides for lawmakers who have been banned from corporate PAC funds say it could affect the vigor with which they challenge some of the progressive agenda,” write Brody Mullins, Emily Glazer and Chad Day of the Journal. These aides have evidently called corporate executives and lobbyists on behalf of the lawmakers they work for to try to get them to reverse their PAC donation pauses. “In a flurry of phone calls, they have delivered the message that halting corporate PAC donations hurts centrist Democrats in Congress who are helping companies fend off progressive attacks from the party’s liberal wing, the people said.”

“Progressive Democrats are readying an array of proposals to regulate or tax businesses this Congress, such as a new tax on financial transactions,” Mullins, Glazer and Day report. “Aides to Republican and Democratic lawmakers say they may be less willing to help undermine those proposals by speaking out against them in public, offering amendments to water them down in committee or lending their support to competing proposals.”

Progressives have rallied against corporate influence on politics for years. In 2018, a pledge to not take any corporate PAC money gained steam among Democrats — and some progressives like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders went a step further in not attending any high-dollar fundraisers during their 2020 presidential campaigns.

The pledge is largely symbolic for many other more moderate Democrats, as corporate lobbyists have other ways of giving money to influence candidates without being officially affiliated with a corporation. Others on the left have rallied behind bills like the For the People Act, or H.R. 1, a set of laws that would challenge corporate PAC influence partially by exposing the people behind dark money.

Many corporations, including some that paused their PAC donations in January, have lobbied against bills like H.R. 1. This makes sense, given that the move to pause these donations is, for many of the corporations, likely a more symbolic move than anything, some report, since PAC donations are actually relatively small in the grand scheme of corporate lobbying; so H.R. 1 would be more impactful than a simple pause on PAC donations.

What’s stunning, some say, is the admission that the corporate money is directly responsible for some of the fervor from both parties to shut down progressive policy.

Though neither the corporations nor the lawmakers behind these pushes are named in the Journal article, it follows that big corporations in general would want to stifle progressives in light of initiatives like H.R. 1. And it follows that centrist Democrats might have those interests, too, considering a long history of corporations helping their campaigns. Through lobbying, corporations have been able to take over politics more and more over the past decades.

Progressive activists have made it clear that they stand against this influence, as they say that many large companies are responsible for a race to the bottom for workers’ rights. These activists have tried to get President Joe Biden to rid his administration of corporate interests. The activists also have allies within Congress like the members of the progressive “Squad,” who have also stood against Biden’s corporate hires.