The Wealthy Corporations Bankrolling the Politicians Who Could Overturn the Election
As we fight for our collective freedom and liberation, elections are an important step in the broader process of making change. When they’re conducted freely and fairly, elections are meant to give the people a voice in shaping the world we live in by offering us the opportunity to elect leaders who represent our values. American democracy has always been fraught and our elections have never truly been fair or free. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and women were functionally excluded from the democratic process for the overwhelming majority of the history of the United States, and have been pushed to the margins of the system for the remainder of it. Corporations have been allowed to further corrupt the electoral process in the US by pouring millions into buying off politicians who put their interests ahead of the communities they are supposed to represent.
Against all odds, our communities have organized and fought to win our civil and human rights, including the right to vote. As we have gradually built power and fought for changes that upended the racial and economic order, we have seen our elected officials and major corporations serve as guardians of the status quo and rig the system again and again in a deliberate attempt to stop progress.
In the contentious 2020 election season, the other side is employing two key strategies to stop BIPOC communities’ voices from being heard. First, major corporations are buying off our elected officials in the most expensive election cycle in the history of the country. Second, we have right-wing politicians enacting a series of tactics meant to suppress the votes of BIPOC communities.
The most egregious of all voter suppression tactics being discussed is the idea that legislatures in swing states should select a Republican slate of electors to send to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote. What this means is that Republicans, with support and backing from corporate funders, could exploit a flawed legal system to undermine the voice of the people and hand over the election to their party.
At ACRE, we have focused on a set of swing states with Repubican-controlled legislatures, specifically Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Collectively, these ten states account for 179 electoral votes. The Republican legislatures of these states will decide whether or not to honor the results of a full, fair, and accurate count of all mail-in and in-person ballots. The threat of state legislatures overriding the will of voters is especially high in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where rules against processing mail-in ballots before Election Day make it highly likely that the final results will not be known for days after the election and the tally will shift drastically from Trump to Biden as mail-in ballots are counted.
There are two things we must do.
First, we must demand that all states count and honor every vote. The state legislatures must select their electors based on a full, fair, and accurate count of all mail-in and in-person ballots.
Second, we must demand accountability from the corporations bankrolling the politicians that are willing to subvert the will of voters (click here to sign our petition). We are calling on these wealthy elites and executives to publicly pledge to demand back all the money they have given to any elected official that refuses to honor the results of a full, fair, and accurate count of all mail-in and in-person ballots in their state or takes any action to prevent all the ballots from being counted. We further call on them to donate those refunds to BIPOC-led grassroots community organizations engaged in voter registration drives in BIPOC communities in the state.
Going forward, we demand that corporations stay out of politics altogether. Corporations have never been and will never be the guardians of democracy. They need to start to repair the damage they have already done to the political process by taking back their donations to politicians that try to overturn the will of the voters, but in the future, they need to keep their dirty money out of our elections.
What follows is a list of corporations whose political action committees and executives are major donors to Republicans in the swing states mentioned above.
ABC Supply (Wisconsin)
Diane Hendricks, who is the co-founder, chair, and sole owner of this wholesale distributor of residential construction materials, is one of the wealthiest billionaires in Wisconsin. Hendricks is a major donor to Wisconsin Republicans, the Republican National Committee, and Trump. Trump added Hendricks to his economic advisory council in 2016 after Hillary Clinton criticized him for not having any women on it.
Amway is a multi-level marketing company owned by Michigan’s DeVos and Van Andel families. Multi-level marketing companies are sometimes compared to pyramid schemes. The powerful DeVos family is a major Republican donor, both nationally and in Michigan, and active in politics. Co-Chairman Doug DeVos’s brother, Dick, was the Republican nominee for Michigan Governor in 2006. Dick is also on Amway’s board of directors and previously served as the company’s president. Dick’s wife is Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education. The DeVos family members are also part owners of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Ashley Furniture (Wisconsin & Florida)
Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture is the largest furniture store in the US and is owned by father-and-son duo Ronald and Todd Wanek. Ronald, the founder and chairman of the company who now lives in Florida, is a major donor to Republicans nationally and at the state level in both Wisconsin and Florida. He and his wife have personally donated $170,000 to Trump’s reelection campaign. Todd, who is the CEO of the company, recently joined the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in the US. Both Ronald and Todd were also major donors to Scott Walker.
AT&T (Texas & Georgia)
Dallas-based AT&T also has regional headquarters in Atlanta. Although AT&T is best known as a telecommunications company, it is also a media giant that acquired WarnerMedia last year. As a result, it now owns CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers, TNT, TBS, truTV, DC Entertainment, New Line, the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Turner Classic Movies. AT&T’s PACs are major donors to Republicans- both nationally, and in Texas and Georgia. CEO John Stankey is also a major Republican donor. AT&T named long-time Republican operative Ed Gillespie as its Senior Executive Vice President for External and Legislative Affairs earlier this year. Gillespie is a past chair of the Republican National Committee and served as a counselor to George W. Bush during his second term.
Bank of America (North Carolina)
Charlotte-based Bank of America is a major power player in North Carolina politics, donating to both Republicans and Democrats alike. Bank of America’s PAC is a major Republican donor at the federal level. CEO Brian Moynihan has been in multiple meetings and calls with Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Bank of America’s Chief Technology Officer, Catherine Bessant, is a member of Trump’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Comcast (Pennsylvania, Michigan, & Florida)
Philadelphia-based Comcast’s PAC is a major donor to Pennsylvania Republicans, contributing more than $100,000 to the Pennsylvania House and Senate Republican Campaign Committees in the 2020 cycle alone. It is also a major donor to Florida Republicans and Michigan Republicans, including PACs connected to both Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. In 2018, Comcast decided to give a platform to the far-right NewsmaxTV channel owned by Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy by including it in its Xfinity Digital starter package. As the owner of NBC Universal, Comcast also helped give Trump a launching pad for his political career by broadcasting The Apprentice. John Sprouls, the CEO of Comcast-owned Universal Orlando Resort, is a member of Florida Governor Rick DeSantis’s Re-Open Florida Task Force. Comcast also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
The California-based Walt Disney Company is a large media conglomerate that owns the major Disney brands, ABC, FX, ESPN, National Geographic, Pixar, Hulu, and other subsidiaries. CEO Bob Iger was a member of Trump’s Strategic Policy Council. While Disney gives to both Republicans and Democrats alike, its subsidiaries are major donors to Republican-leaning PACs in Florida in particular. Josh D’Amaro, President of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is a member of Florida Governor Rick DeSantis’s Re-Open Florida Task Force.
Duke Energy (North Carolina)
Charlotte-based Duke Energy is an electric power company. Duke’s PAC is a major donor to Republicans, both at the federal level and in North Carolina. CEO Lynn Good is also a major donor to North Carolina Republicans. Trump held a campaign event this fall at the Duke Energy hangar near the Charlotte Airport. When Trump visited North Carolina in 2018 for photo-ops with Hurricane Florence victims, Good participated in an event with him. Duke also praised Trump’s decision last year to decline to set uranium production quotas.
Equinox Group (Florida)
The Equinox Group owns Equinox Hotels, various Equinox clubs, SoulCycle, PURE Yoga, Blink, and other lifestyle fitness brands. Equinox is owned by New-York based Related companies, the real estate behemoth developing the Hudson Yards project on New York’s west side. Stephen Ross is the Chairman of Related Companies, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, and the former chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York. He has homes in both New York and Florida. Ross is old friends with Trump and arranged a major fundraiser for him in the Hamptons in 2019. SoulCycle was the target of boycotts in light of that fundraiser.
Ford Motor Company (Michigan)
Dearborn-based Ford is one of the largest employers in Michigan and a major power player in the state. Ford’s PAC is a major donor to Republicans nationally and in Michigan. Ford hosted Trump at one of its plants earlier this year, while he was campaigning for reelection. While there, Trump praised the “good bloodlines” of Henry Ford, the anti-Semitic founder of the company and a great-grandfather of the company’s Executive Chairman, Bill Ford. Ford executive Joe Hinrichs was in attendance at Trump’s signing ceremony for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement earlier this year. While he was CEO of Ford, Mark Field served on Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.
Home Depot (Georgia)
Atlanta-based Home Depot is a major political player in Georgia. Home Depot and its PACs are major donors to Republicans, both nationally and in Georgia. CEO Craig Menear is also a major Republican donor. Menear was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for retail earlier this year. When Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot turned 90, Georgia business and civic leaders celebrated his birthday by raising $117 million in his honor. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms were both honorary co-chairs of the event, and even Trump made a video appearance and thanked Marcus for his advice and friendship.
Honeywell (North Carolina & Arizona)
Honeywell is an aerospace defense contractor and engineering company that is based in North Carolina but also has a significant presence in Arizona. Honeywell hosted Trump to tour the facilities at its Phoenix campus earlier this year, which has been repurposed to make N95 masks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk also joined Trump in a coronavirus press briefing at the White House this past March. Mike Madsden, the President & CEO of Honeywell Aerospace, sits on the board of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a powerful business lobbying group in Arizona. Honeywell’s PAC is a major donor to both Republicans and Democrats.
Herbert Kohler, the executive chairman of this plumbing fixture manufacturing company, is one of Wisconsin’s wealthiest billionaires and a major donor to Wisconsin Republicans. Kohler was a major donor to Scott Walker, who in turn gave Kohler wetland permits to build a golf course on state park land.
Kroger’s PAC and CEO Rodney McMullen have both been major donors to Ohio Republicans. McMullen expressed excitement after Trump’s election in 2016 and said they were looking forward to working with the new administration. McMullen was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for retail earlier this year. McMullen also joined Trump during his COVID-19 response press conference with industry executives in April this year and participated in an event with Mike Pence in May, in the throes of 2020 campaign. Ohio-based Kroger owns supermarkets across the country including grocery chains like Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s Food Stores, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, King Scoopers, Mariano’s, QFC, Ralphs, Roundy’s, Ruler Foods, and Smith’s.
Lowe’s (North Carolina)
North Carolina-based Lowe’s is a major donor to Republicans, both nationally and in the state. CEO Marvin Ellison was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for retail earlier this year.
Meijer PAC and CEO Hank Meijer are major donors to Michigan Republicans. Hank Meijer’s son, Peter Meijer, is the Republican nominee in this year’s election for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. Hank Meijer came under fire for a campaign finance violation this year while trying to mask a donation to his son’s campaign.
Billionaire John Menard, who is the founder and owner of this home improvement store chain with stores throughout the Midwest, is Wisconsin’s richest resident. Menard is a major donor to Wisconsin Republicans and a good friend to Trump. Menard was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for retail earlier this year.
Northwestern Mutual (Wisconsin)
Northwestern Mutual is a Fortune 500 financial services company based in Milwaukee. CEO John Schlifske is a major donor to Wiconsin Republicans and Northwestern Mutual’s PAC is a major donor to Republicans nationally. Schlifske is a powerful political figure in Milwaukee and an officer of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Penske Automotive Group (Michigan & Pennsylvania)
Founder and CEO Roger Penske is a major donor to Michigan Republicans and was awarded with a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump in 2019. Brian Hard, who runs Penske Truck Leasing, a Pennsylvania-based joint-venture of Penske Automotive, is also a major donor to Republicans in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
PNC Financial (Pennsylvania)
Pittsburgh-based PNC is one of the largest banks in the US, with branches all over the eastern half of the country. PNC’s PAC is a major donor to Republicans nationally and in Pennsylvania. CEO William Demchak is also a major donor to Republicans for federal office.
Procter & Gamble (Ohio)
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is a consumer goods corporation that specialties in personal health, personal care, and hygiene products and owns brands like Always, Bounty, Charmin, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Febreze, Gain, Gillete, Head & Shoulders, Olay, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Tide, and Vicks, among many others. P&G’s PAC is a major donor to Republicans nationally and in Ohio. CEO David Taylor was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for healthcare earlier this year and joined Trump in a coronavirus press briefing at the White House this past March. P&G board member Nelson Peltz hosted a $10 million fundraiser for Trump in February, which the Washington Post described as the biggest Trump fundraiser since he took office in 2017.
This Florida-based grocery giant with stores all over the Southeast is a major donor to Florida Republicans. Coming on the heels of the Parkland school shooting earlier that year, Publix made its largest single political donation ever to Adam Putnam’s failed campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2018, giving $670,000 to the self-professed “proud NRA sellout”. As a result, Publix was the target of boycotts by organizers fighting for gun control. Publix CEO Todd Jones is a member of Florida Governor Rick DeSantis’s Re-Open Florida Task Force. Publix was founded by billionaire George Jenkins. His family is one of the wealthiest in Florida and his daughter and grandchildren are major Trump donors.
Quicken Loans (Michigan)
Michigan-based Quicken Loans donated $750,000 to Trump’s Inauguration. Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert watched the returns of the 2018 midterm elections in the White House with Trump himself, who referred to Gilbert as “a great friend.” Gilbert, who is a major political power broker in Michigan, leveraged his friendship with Trump to get a special designation from the administration for his real estate holdings in Downtown Detroit, which allowed the billionaire to get a massive tax break. This past August, Gilbert personally donated $50,000 to the Rock Holdings Inc State PAC, which gives primarily to Republicans. Gilbert also owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Raytheon Missile Systems (Arizona)
Arizona-based Raytheon is a major defense contractor and manufacturer of warfare technology and weapons. Raytheon’s PACs are major donors both nationally and at the state level in Arizona. CEO Gregory Hayes was named to Trump’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group for defense earlier this year. Trump’s Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, is a former Raytheon vice president and was the corporation’s top lobbyist until Trump named him Secretary of the Army in 2017. Raytheon-owned Pratt & Whitney is also building a large, $650 million plant in Asheville, NC.
SC Johnson (Wisconsin)
SC Johnson is the Wisconsin-based cleaning supplies and consumer chemicals manufacturer that owns brands like Drano, Windex, Raid, and Glade. CEO Fisk Johnson is a major donor to Wisconsin Republicans and a member of Trump’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Uline (Wisconsin & Arizona)
Liz and Dick Uihlein, the founders of Wisconsin-based Uline, are the top Republican donors nationally in the 2020 election cycle, with more than $58 million in contributions. They also spent $26 million nationally in the 2018 election cycle. Liz, who is the company’s CEO, is also an economic adviser to Trump. Although the Uihleins live in the Chicago suburbs, they have been particularly influential in Wisconsin, where their company is based, and in state legislative races in swing states like Arizona.
Wells Fargo (North Carolina & Arizona)
Wells Fargo’s East Coast headquarters are in Charlotte and it is one of the largest employers in Arizona, making it an important player in both states. Wells Fargo and its PAC are major donors to Republicans at the state and federal levels across the country, including in both North Carolina and Arizona. Wells Fargo’s head of consumer banking, Mary Mack, was named to Business North Carolina’s Power 100 in 2020. Jennifer Anderson, a Wells Fargo executive, was named one of the most influential women in Arizona business in 2015 and a top business leader of 2020 by AZ Big Media, and is the Treasurer of the Arizona Bankers Association and a former executive board member of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.