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Corporate PACs halt GOP donations — why it's not "financially meaningful"

A growing number of American companies are pledging to pause donations from their political action committees (PAC) to lawmakers who voted to overturn the Electoral College results showing President Joe Biden had won the presidential election. But halting these donations is a largely symbolic gesture because of campaign finance limits.

"If they wanted to take a real financially meaningful stand, they would say, 'we're not going to give through the corporate PAC to office holders who try to subvert the democratic process and we are going to demand that any trade associations we give to follow those same rules, including for Super PAC donations,'" said Adav Noti, senior director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Donations from corporate PACs to candidates' campaigns are limited to $5,000 during the primary period and $5,000 during the general election, according to the Federal Election Commission. That means the most a company like Amazon or Google can give from its PAC to any of eight senators is $10,000 over their six-year term.

Between 2016 and 2020, the eight senators who objected to the election results, led by Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, received a combined total of just $89,000 in donations from the 13 companies that said they would no longer give to them. It's a tiny fraction of what the senators raised for their campaigns. In that same four-year period, the senators raised over $180 million for their races, according to a review of FEC filings.

Nearly 150 Republican lawmakers voted to toss out the election results hours after supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol while Congress was counting the electoral votes, sending lawmakers fleeing from the floor and delaying the count for nearly six hours. Five people died in the melee. 

Eight Republican senators objected to the election results, with seven voting to discard the results from Pennsylvania while six objected to the results from Arizona. A total of 138 House Republicans voted not to count the results from Pennsylvania, while 121 did so for Arizona's results.

After the January 6 riots at the Capitol, CBS News reached out to more than 40 of the top U.S. companies. Thirteen of the nearly four dozen companies have said they will not donate from their PACs to Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the election results. The rest have said they would temporarily pause political donations while reviewing company policy.

Airlines, auto manufactures, hotel chains, and banking institutions said this week they are either stopping donations to those Republican members or pausing all political contributions temporarily while reviewing policies.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Wednesday that "when we give donations to elected officials, we want to make certain that those are officials that reflect the values of our company."

But the real political money and power is in super PACs, which are not subject to donation caps. Noti said corporations could make a stronger statement by telling their executives to stop donating to super PACs that support the lawmakers who voted against the certification.

Apple doesn't operate a political action committee, but one of its top executives Douglas Vetter, is a major Republican donor who gave $150,000 to the Trump Victory Fund in February 2020, according to the FEC. Vetter also donated to Hawley.

Google, which announced earlier this week it would halt giving to Republicans who didn't support the Electoral College certification, didn't donate to any of the eight senators involved in the effort in 2020. Eric Schimdt, Google's former CEO and executive chairman, who has largely contributed to Democrats, also donated more than $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the last four years.

American Express said it only contributed to 22 of the House members who voted in favor of the objections, and a review of FEC filings showed nine of those members are on the House Financial Services Committee.

A top Republican fundraiser said that in the short term, this will make company employees and customers feel good. But looking ahead, it puts the corporations in a corner because a large number of House Republicans voted against certifying the results.

"When (Senator) Elizabeth Warren and (Senator) Bernie Sanders and that gang starts coming after these financial services companies, they're going to want some of these Republicans members to give them cover like they've done in the past and they may not be as willing to do it," the top GOP fundraiser said.

Katie Ross-Dominick, Gaby Ake, and Katie Krupnik contributed to this story.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said an American Express employee had donated to Republican candidates. It has been updated.   

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