Toyota stops donations to election objectors after PAC takes ads out against company

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Toyota Motor Corp. will no longer donate to members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election in January, the company said Thursday, after facing blowback over corporate contributions. 

The move also follows an announcement earlier in the day that The Lincoln Project, a political action committee founded by Republicans to help defeat former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, would be releasing a series of advertisements directed at companies that donated to policymakers who opposed certifying the election on Jan. 6, beginning with Toyota. 

This Nov. 15, 2020 photo shows a long row of unsold used Highlander sports-utility vehicles sits at a Toyota dealership in Englewood, Colo.

Like many other companies, Toyota announced it would temporarily withhold and review PAC donations after Trump supporters mobbed the U.S. Capitol building and after 147 Republicans in Congress objected to the Electoral College results from select states later that evening. 

But the company's PAC resumed donations to some of those members as early as Feb. 4 with a donation to Rep. Alex Mooney, R-West Virginia, according to campaign finance filings.

The company went on to donate a total of $56,000 to Mooney and 37 other Republicans who opposed certifying the results, according to an analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit ethics watchdog group. The group's report prompted a flurry of criticism of the Japanese automaker.

Other corporate donors included Boeing Co., Koch Industries, Lockheed Martin, Walmart, PNC, U.S. Bancorp and more. Boeing and Koch Industries topped the list with $210,000 and $122,500 donated respectively to congressional election objectors since the Capitol riot, according to CREW. 

"The Lincoln Project will not sit by and watch as companies like Toyota — companies that have benefited from America’s economic strength and freedom — give money to politicians who are working to overthrow that same system," Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen said in a statement Thursday morning. "This is no longer a fight between two political parties or entrenched interests. It is no less than a fight to preserve American democracy."

The Lincoln Project ad aimed at Toyota was slated to be the first in a series that would run in markets relevant to the company it's targeting, the organization said. The Toyota ad was scheduled to run on Fox Business and CNBC in Plano, Texas, near the company's American headquarters and in New York City, and digitally near the top 20 Toyota dealerships in the U.S. Comcast in Washington, D.C., declined to air the commercial, arguing it didn't meet their guidelines.

Hours later, Toyota announced it would change course and stop the donations.

"Toyota is committed to supporting and promoting actions that further our democracy. Our company has long-standing relationships with Members of Congress across the political spectrum, especially those representing our U.S. operations," spokesperson Edward Lewis told The Detroit News via email.

"Our bipartisan PAC equally supports Democrats and Republicans running for Congress. In fact, in 2021, the vast majority of the contributions went to Democrats and Republicans who supported the certification of the 2020 election. We understand that the PAC decision to support select Members of Congress who contested the results troubled some stakeholders. We are actively listening to our stakeholders and, at this time, we have decided to stop contributing to those Members of Congress who contested the certification of certain states in the 2020 election."

The decision marks a reversal from April, when the company told The Detroit News it supports candidates "based on their position on issues that are important to the auto industry and the company. We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification." The company added at the time that it did decide against giving to some members whose statements and actions "undermine the legitimacy of our elections and institutions.”

Ford Motor Co. also decided in April against a blanket ban of GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying election results in some states, saying instead that it would vet campaign contributions through "enhanced criteria that acknowledge a candidate’s ability to demonstrate public service consistent with building trust, acting with competence, integrity in serving others."

The Lincoln Project said it would no longer air the Toyota ad after Thursday, and declined to comment on what other companies it plans to target. 

Both the Lincoln Project and CREW, the group that initially reported Toyota's donations, praised the company's decision Thursday. CREW spokesperson Jordan Libowitz told The News via email: "It shouldn’t take a public pressure campaign to get them to do the right thing, but we’re glad it worked."

Lincoln Project spokesperson RC Di Mezzo said the company "put democracy ahead of transactional politics."

"We hope that the rest of corporate America will follow their lead — we’ll be there to make sure of it," he said. "We’re just getting warmed up."

rbeggin@detroitnews.com