Detroit Regional Chamber PAC re-evaluating political donations after Jan. 6 insurrection

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

The Detroit Regional Chamber's political action committee (PAC) said Thursday that it is reevaluating its political giving and endorsements in light of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.

The announcement comes amid a broader national reckoning with political support for GOP elected officials who supported former President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the election. Since the events of Jan. 6 — when Trump supporters, egged on by Trump, stormed the Capitol building, leading to five deaths — business organizations and companies across the country have said they are making changes to their political donation policies.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber speaks during a press conference, Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

In a statement, the chamber's PAC noted that business leaders in Michigan and nationwide "are carefully evaluating their political engagement in light of the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol. Entities ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Fortune 500 firms based in Michigan have expressed dismay not just at what happened inside the Capitol, but also the actions of many that enabled this unprecedented act of sedition."

The committee "joins these leading business interests in the grave concern that too many of our elected leaders not only did too little to thwart the violence at the Capitol but propagated the falsehood that the 2020 election was not valid or somehow stolen.

"The Chamber respects leaders with different policy approaches, but expects all leaders not to traffic in falsehoods, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, to respect the will of Michigan voters, to uphold enduring American fundamental values, and to support federalism; including the right of states to conduct and certify their elections."

As such, the statement goes on to say, the chamber will continue its "long tradition of bipartisan political endorsements" but "will weigh heavily any candidate's past or future actions that do not align with these principles."

Between contributions by individuals associated with the chamber or their family members (which made up the majority of spending) and PAC donations, the chamber spent $20,026 in the 2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those contributions primarily were to Democratic candidates, but GOP Reps. Lisa McClain and Fred Upton each received $500 in PAC funding.

The chamber declined to comment beyond the PAC's statement. Its move follows steps by such major Michigan-based businesses as Dow Inc., Ford Motor Co. and Rocket Companies, among others, to make changes to their political donation policies since Jan. 6.

Even national business groups that had found areas of agreement with Trump earlier in his administration reversed their support and called out his role in inciting the riot. The CEO of the powerful National Association of Manufacturers, in a strongly-worded statement, called for members of Trump's cabinet to consider removing him from office via the 25th Amendment, for example.

In an unprecedented event, a mob of hundreds of Trump loyalists breached the Capitol as the U.S. Congress was in a joint session to certify President Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Despite the violent events, some members of Congress — including Michigan GOP Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, Lisa McClain of Clinton Township and Tim Walberg of Tipton — still voted to overturn the Electoral College votes of key swing states, part of a broader but unsuccessful attempt to invalidate the election results and keep Trump in office.

The violent mob attack, as well as the GOP effort to overturn the election, has prompted a backlash among business interests that contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns via PACs and employee donations.

Midland-based Dow, a multinational chemical company, recently said it would immediately halt all corporate and employee PAC donations "to any member of Congress who voted to object to the certification of the presidential election" for the period of an election cycle.

Ford said it would temporarily pause all political donations. Rocket, too, said that after contributing to the federal inauguration committee, it would temporarily suspend political giving.

Collectively, the three companies spent several million dollars on political contributions in the 2020 cycle. Nationally, major companies such as Facebook and Google announced similar freezes.

Meanwhile, Michigan Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rich Studley told The Detroit News Thursday that while the organization respects the decision by the Detroit Regional Chamber's PAC, it has no plans at this time to follow suit. The Lansing-based organization also has been in touch with major companies in the state that have opted to change their political donation policies.

"The message we're getting from our members is, 'Thank goodness the election is over. We need less drama and more action,'" he said.

Studley noted, too, that the organization is receiving few contribution requests currently, since the last election cycle just concluded. And the chamber typically waits until legislators are in their second year in office to make endorsement decisions based on their voting records, he said.

"I don't think there is consensus in the business community, either at the state or local level, about how to handle this unprecedented situation, so business groups all over the state and all over the country are trying to figure out what's next and how do we work with the members of Congress that have been elected," he said.

The PAC for the nonprofit Business Leaders for Michigan said in a statement Thursday that its political engagement "is focused exclusively on state issues and races for governor, the Michigan Legislature, and state ballot issues.

"Our process for determining whether or not to support a candidate includes evaluating their alignment with our goals and objectives for making Michigan a Top Ten state and demonstrating leadership in reaching common sense, comprehensive, holistic solutions. These principles will continue to guide as we review our standards and candidates for office moving forward."

The degree to which the pullback in some PAC donations will influence corporate giving at the state and federal level remains to be seen.  

"Because a lot of these interest groups and organizations have cloaked their statements in vagueness and haven't really set specific principles, I think that this is more about a statement of values for the interest group themselves rather than a warning to candidates," said Simon Schuster, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

It's far too soon to assess the impact on money in politics, he said, but, "This is part of a growing trend of corporations willing to extend their political giving and their interests into more of a social realm. It shows that these large business interests are no longer extending their political statements to their bottom line and that they're willing to virtue signal beyond that.

"To what extend that itself is marketing, and in the best interests of their bottom line, is definitely up for debate."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski