American Express' platinum-level duplicity
On January 11, 2022, Popular Information received an unsolicited email from Andrew R. Johnson, the Vice President for Corporate Affairs at American Express. This newsletter had just published our first report on corporations that pledged to stop donations to the 147 Republicans who had voted to overturn the election on January 6. For that article, Popular Information contacted more than 100 companies. But we had not yet reached out to American Express.
Johnson was reaching out, he said, because American Express had just decided "not make PAC contributions to Congressional members who objected to certifying the Electoral College results." Johnson included a statement from American Express Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Stephen J. Squeri that was sent to employees and posted to its website. "As you have been reporting on this topic, I wanted to send you our statement for your awareness," Johnson wrote.
The language of the statement was notable because it seemed to foreclose the possibility of resuming donations in the future: "Last week’s attempts by some congressional members to subvert the presidential election results and disrupt the peaceful transition of power do not align with our American Express Blue Box values; therefore, the AXP PAC will not support them." Unlike the statements of many other corporations, there were no caveats. American Express was not "suspending" or "reevaluating" its support.
To make sure there was no misunderstanding, Popular Information reached back out to Johnson: "Mr. Squeri says 'AXP PAC will not support them.' Some other companies have described their actions as a "suspension." But this statement does not seem time limited or temporary. Am I interpreting this correctly?"
"I am confirming that your understanding is correct," Johnson replied.
We reported American Express' position, as confirmed by Johnson, the next day. "An American Express spokesperson confirmed to Popular Information that the decision was permanent," Popular Information wrote in its January 12, 2021 edition. "The company will not donate to these Republicans ever again."
On June 17, 2022, however, American Express' PAC quietly donated $5,000 to Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) and $10,000 to Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). Both Schweitkert and Luetkemeyer voted to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021.
Johnson sent this statement in response to Popular Information's request for comment:
Our PAC contributes to legislators on a bipartisan basis based on a range of policy matters important to our company, colleagues, and customers. We resumed contributions to a handful of representatives after an 18-month pause. We will continue to regularly review contributions to individual campaigns as we consider future PAC distributions.
Johnson did not address why the company resumed donations to Republican objectors after 18 months when he previously told Popular Information that the company's decision to cut off donations was permanent.
The Luetkemeyer factor
American Express seemed particularly eager to send PAC dollars to Congressman Luetkemeyer, sending $5,000 to Luetkemeyer's campaign and another $5,000 to Luetkemeyer's leadership PAC.
Luetkemeyer is a senior member of the House Financial Services committee. If Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives, Luetkemeyer would have significant influence over policy issues relevant to American Express. According a March 2021 report in Bloomberg News, Luetkemeyer suggested he would retaliate against corporations that stopped funding his campaign:
Underscoring the potential danger for financial companies, senior Financial Services member Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, a Republican, recently told donors that if corporations were going to put him on an enemies list, he would create a list of his own, said a person who attended the meeting.
Luetkemeyer's Chief of Staff, Chad Ramey, did not deny the report. Instead, Ramey said he couldn't discuss what happened in meetings.
Luetkemeyer is heavily reliant on corporate PACs to fund his campaign, according to an analysis of FEC data by Popular Information. In 2020, Luetkemeyer raised $1,589,845 from corporate PACs (78.8% of total funds) and just $16,287.05 from individuals donating $200 or less (0.8% of total funds).
Former American Express CEO speaks out
American Express' decision to begin donating to Republican objectors reflects the desire of some in the business community to put the events of January 6, 2021, behind them. That, according to an open letter recently signed by former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and other prominent business leaders, is a big mistake. The letter, dated July 25, 2022, is titled "Nation’s Leading Investors and Business Leaders Insist January 6th Poses Ongoing Threat to American Business."
…Going forward, we believe business leaders constitute an indispensable voice that collectively reinforces a respect for rules, stability, and fairness. We also know that the temptation to turn a blind eye — to believe this is not a problem of ours — is strong. But it is wrong. Whatever the facts of findings of the ongoing inquiry into the campaign to overturn the election may be, they concern us.
The letter specifically calls out companies that have "back-tracked" on "new political giving policies that excluded donations to congressional objectors."