EXCLUSIVE: How corporate PACs are plotting to "move beyond" January 6

Following the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, dozens of corporations announced they were suspending PAC donations to the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election. Many more announced they were suspending all PAC activity. For the National Association of Business PACs (NABPAC), the trade association for corporate PACs, this is a problem. 

Emails, video, and other internal documents obtained by Popular Information reveal how NABPAC has been encouraging its membership, which includes more than 250 corporate PACs, to "move beyond" January 6 and resume their political contributions.

On March 2, NABPAC hosted a webinar called "Where Do We Go From Here." The event featured Michael DuHaime, a prominent Republican operative and crisis communications consultant. During the event, DuHaime and others provided strategic and messaging advice about how to restart political donations — including donations to the 147 Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College results based on Trump's lies. 

The event was attended by about 80 representatives of corporate PACs, including major companies like Delta, Dow, Altria, Northrup Grumman, New York Life, Lincoln Financial, and Boston Scientific. NABPAC board members include representatives from Microsoft, Kraft Heinz, Eli Lilly, Home Depot, and Cigna. 

A recording of the webinar was accessible to the public through Vimeo, a video-sharing website. Shortly after Popular Information contacted NABPAC for comment, the video was password protected. 

In the webinar, DuHaime encouraged companies not to be pressured to withhold donations from Republicans who voted to overturn the election. Instead, DuHaime said corporations should "do what's right for your organization" and "deal with the fallout." He predicted that resuming contributions to Republican objectors "most likely… would be a one day story and most likely you are not going to lose customer share over it." 

DuHaime cautioned that January 6 is "very emotional in a way that other things in politics haven't been." At another point in the webinar, he encouraged corporations to prepare a communications strategy justifying their decision to give money to Republicans who voted to overturn the election. DuHaime provided a hypothetical series of tough questions: "Why did you give to this person? This person voted after a Capitol insurrection where a police officer was killed, and you decided to max out to that person? Why did you do that?" He said that is a "really tough question" but "there is probably a good answer." One suggested response DuHaime offered is that the Republican objector "supported ten other things that are important to your industry."

At times, DuHaime was clear-eyed about the significance of the events of January 6. He said the story is "bigger" and "different" than other controversies. DuHaime, a frequent commentator in the media who has been critical of Trump's claims of election fraud, said that he personally had "strong emotions" about the attack. 

DuHaime also encouraged corporations to be "consistent with the commitments you've made." DuHaime said, for example, that if a corporation publicly said it would stop donating to Republican objectors for two years, it should fulfill that pledge. 

But DuHaime also discouraged corporations from making such commitments. He said that "people move on" and "things will feel differently 16 months from now." He advised corporate PACs to not "externally set a timeline" because it gives "reporters a time to check back in with you." Instead, "if you are going to pause… don't tell anyone when the pause is over."

Ultimately, DuHaime emphasized the need for corporations to change their messaging rather than their behavior. Corporations cannot, according to DuHaime, tell a reporter that it made a donation because "this person has power over us and we need access to that person" even if that is "exactly what you are doing." 

DuHaime said contributing to a member of Congress because they have power over legislation impacting your company is a "good reason to give." But he recommends establishing a more palatable public pretext for the donation. DuHaime advises corporations should "figure out ways to justify that [donation] externally that go just beyond the fact that this is someone who is in power today." 

Aime Adams, a PAC consultant who served as moderator of the event for NABPAC, said corporations need to establish that voting to overturn the election is not disqualifying because it could be applied to other issues. "The next thing is climate change," Adams said, "Your company says they are big on the environment and you are giving money to climate deniers." Last summer, Adams noted, there was controversy over companies that said they "stand for racial justice" but gave to "people who are coming out against the protestors." Corporations, Adams said, need to establish that donations are not about "one day" or "one vote" but the "totality of the relationship." 

In response to a request for comment, NABPAC declined to address the substance of the webinar but said that "Mike [DuHaime] and NABPAC are on the record denouncing the [January 6] Capitol attacks multiple times." DuHaime did not respond to a request for comment.

Corporate PACs that resumed donations to Republican objectors presented as models

According to an email obtained by Popular Information, NABPAC hosted another webinar on April 13 called "News from the Frontline." The purpose of the webinar was to hear from a "panel of PAC directors whose PACs have already started making contributions." 

The panel included Kim Snow, the PAC director for Cigna. On January 13, Cigna, one of the nation's largest health insurers, issued the following statement:

There is never any justification for violence or the kind of destruction that occurred at the U.S. Capitol last week – a building that stands as a powerful symbol of the very democracy that makes our nation strong. Accordingly, CignaPAC will discontinue support of any elected official who encouraged or supported violence, or otherwise hindered a peaceful transition of power.

In the first three months of 2021, Cigna donated to six members of Congress that hindered a peaceful transition of power by objecting to the certification of the Electoral College — Congressmen Byron Donalds (R-FL), Tom Rice (R-SC), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), and Billy Long (R-MO).

Cigna told the New York Times that these donations didn't violate its pledge to elected officials who "hindered a peaceful transition of power" because congressional votes are “by definition, part of the peaceful transition of power.” The company's official position is that voting to overturn the election is part of the "peaceful transition of power." The company is now being held out as a model by NABPAC.

Another participant in the panel was Lisa Strikowsky Gillman, the Senior Government Affairs Manager for T-Mobile. After January 6, T-Mobile said it was "suspending all of our PAC distributions" in light of the "unacceptable" attack on the democratic process. But in February, TMobile donated $15,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The two entities will support the campaigns of every Republican objector running for reelection. 

The NRSC is chaired by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who voted to overturn the election. On April 6, according to an email obtained by Popular Information, NABPAC hosted "a special briefing" for members with Matt Moon, Deputy Executive Director of the NRSC.

NABPAC's internal survey of corporate PACs

In March, according to documents obtained by Popular Information, NABPAC conducted a survey of its membership called "Moving Beyond the Pause." In a March 30 email detailing the results, NABPAC said that, among the respondents, 67% told NABPAC "their PAC established a pause in making some or all contributions." Among those who paused, "nearly half (47%)" said "they would be doing so for the first quarter of 2021." 

The survey suggests there may be a significant uptick in corporate PAC donations in the second quarter of 2021. Who receives this money is an open question. NABPAC did not indicate how many corporate PACs specifically intended to give to Republican objectors after the first quarter. In the first quarter, corporate PAC donations plunged for Republicans who voted to overturn the election, and two-thirds of that group had "overall fundraising declines."

NABPAC is also running a series of print and digital ads "to defend the business PAC community as candidate/committee contributions begin again." Among the core talking points is that contributions from PACs "reduce political polarization."

That claim is based on a 2016 study of state legislators. It found that "[i]ndividual donors prefer to support ideologically extreme candidates while access-seeking PACs tend to support more moderate candidates." Therefore, "higher limits on contributions from political action committees (PACs) lead to the selection of more moderate legislators."  

Ironically, NABPAC is now trying to use this study to help justify the resumption of donations to the Republicans who voted to overturn the election — an extraordinarily partisan group of elected officials.