On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), one of 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives who objected to certifying the Electoral College, told supporters 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.
Chad Ramey, Luetkemeyer’s chief of staff, said that while he couldn’t discuss the specifics of any meeting, “the congressman has never referred to anyone as an enemy.”
“While he certainly doesn’t agree with some of the decisions, the congressman has maintained that PACs have the right to support whoever they choose, be they Republicans like Congressman Luetkemeyer who support economic growth and responsible regulation or others who take a different posture on policies impacting the financial sector,” Ramey said.
Ramey's claim that "the congressman has never referred to anyone as an enemy" is especially clever. Bloomberg never reported that Luetkemeyer referred to anyone as an enemy. But by denying something that Bloomberg never reported, it gives the impression that Luetkemeyer is contesting the accuracy of the story.
Luetkemeyer's office did not respond to a request for comment from Popular Information.
Why is Luetkemeyer so concerned about corporate PAC money? It comprises the vast majority of his campaign funds. In the 2018 midterms, for example, Luetkemeyer received $1,682,228 from corporate PACs — 72.6% of his total funds raised. That's the fifth highest percentage of any member of Congress that cycle. In contrast, Luetkemeyer raised just $33,321 from individuals donating $200 or less — 1.44% of his total.
His reliance on corporate dollars is only increasing. 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).
Luetkemeyer's long roster of corporate PAC donors include many that have suspended donations to members of Congress, like himself, that voted to overturn the election. This group includes: AllState ($9,500 to Luetkemeyer's campaign), Amazon ($2,500), American Express ($10,000), AT&T ($10,000), Bayer ($5,000), Comcast ($7,000), Commerce Bank ($5,300), Exelon ($1,000), GE ($6,500), Hallmark ($5,000), KPMG ($10,000), Marriott ($2,500), Marsh & McLennon ($8,500), MassMutual ($10,000), Mastercard ($8,500), Morgan Stanley ($10,000), Nasdaq ($2,000), Nike ($1,000), PNC Bank ($10,000), PwC ($10,000), S&P Global ($5,000), and State Street ($6,000).
Luetkemeyer also received donations for numerous corporate PACs that have suspended all their contributions following the January 6 riot.
Allegedly threatening to seek retribution against former donors is certainly unsavory. But does it violate any law or ethics rule?
The ethics of threatening donors
A similar issue arose in February, after the Wall Street Journal reported that certain Congressional offices were considering "punishing" corporations that didn't resume donating:
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…
Aides to some Republicans lawmakers say they are considering punishing the companies that halted PAC donations by banning their lobbyists from coming to their offices to advocate on legislation.
“The way these PACs have tried to so quickly distance themselves is going to have a lasting impact on our relationship with corporate America,” said one congressional aide who works for a lawmaker who voted to challenge the election.
In response, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a non-profit advocating for ethical government, sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee. The CLC called on the committee "to immediately address threats from congressional staff to condition official actions and access to elected officials on campaign contributions." The CLC argued the conduct violated House Ethics rules, citing this passage from the House Ethics Manual:
Members and staff are not to take or withhold any official action on the basis of the campaign contributions or support of the involved individuals… Members and staff are likewise prohibited from threatening punitive action on the basis of such considerations…
The House Ethics Manual also advises members of Congress and staff "to avoid even the appearance that solicitations of campaign contributions are connected in any way with an action taken or to be taken in their official capacity."
Kedric Payne, CLC's General Counsel and the former Deputy Chief Counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, told Popular Information that Luetkemeyer's alleged conduct violates House ethics rules. Specifically, "the conduct violates the rule against threats of punitive actions based on whether someone contributes." Payne also said it was imperative that the House Ethics Committee take action. "If the Ethics Committee does not enforce this rule they promote a pay-to-play culture," Payne said.
Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), also blasted Luetkemeyer. "[T]he congressman's apparent belief that it is okay to retaliate against those who do not give him campaign money tells a lot about the state of our democracy; our representatives should never decide how to do their jobs based on who does or does not give them money, and his flaunting of consequences for those who fail to pay up represents a new low," Bookbinder told Popular Information.
Crank up the money machine
Luetkemeyer's alleged threats are part of a larger campaign to pressure corporate PACs to resume donating. Bloomberg reports that corporate interests are looking to narrow down the list of 147 Republicans to a much smaller "no-fly list." This is consistent with a memo released by the Chamber of Commerce which opined that it was not "appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification."
According to Bloomberg, no one "wants to be the first to crank up the money machine." Most corporations will "move slowly." Lobbyists expect some PACs to resume "in the second quarter with donations mainly to non-controversial members of Congress." But they are hoping the floodgates "will open once Democrats start to craft legislation, on taxes for example, that targets businesses and wealthy individuals."