Josh Hawley looked like a pariah immediately after Jan. 6. What a difference a year makes

Daniel Desrochers
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Washington – There was a brief moment after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, one year ago, when the Republican political establishment was outraged.

Many directed their anger toward Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the first senator to say he would object to certifying a state’s 2020 ballots. He was perceived by some to have encouraged the protesters and the false narrative that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

Within a week, Hallmark asked for campaign contributions back from Hawley and Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, who also objected. Neither gave the money back.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, to examine the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

Big corporate contributors like Cerner, American Express, Marriott and AT&T pledged to either stop or pause donations they made to candidates who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election after pro-Trump supporters broke into the Capitol and halted the proceedings for several hours.

Hawley was treated like a pariah. Democrats filed an ethics complaint against him. There were calls for his resignation and censure. A year later, nothing has come from the ethics complaint and Hawley has neither resigned nor been censured.

And – through the end of the year – he nearly quadrupled the amount he raised in 2019 and 2020 combined.

“There is a different feeling and belief about Josh and certain public policy issues out in the rest of America and the D.C. press bubble got it entirely wrong,” said Kyle Plotkin, a Hawley political adviser and his former chief of staff.

In just the first quarter of 2021, between January and March, Hawley collected around $3 million, already more than he had raised in 2019 and 2020.

Since Jan. 6, 2021, he brought in more than $8.35 million and has 85,000 new donors, according to Plotkin.

Hawley’s campaign has not yet filed a report that covers October through December. Hawley has denounced the violence on Jan. 6 and has said President Joe Biden is the “duly elected President.”

The political impact of a decision can be difficult to measure outside of an election. Still, Hawley has been invited to speak at conservative functions, was able to get amendments passed through Congress, has found Democratic co-sponsors for his bills and is still considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024.

And the most concrete numbers – fundraising totals – indicate little political backlash among Republican voters, many still loyal to Trump, to Hawley’s decision to object to certification.

In April, his campaign even swore off collecting corporate PAC money as major businesses like Coca-Cola and Major League Baseball criticized an elections bill passed by Georgia Legislature that changed the state’s absentee voting rules. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who led the objection against the certification of Arizona’s ballots, also gave up corporate money that month.

In the months prior, Hawley’s only PAC donations came from the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Missouri Soybeans Association and POET LLC, an alternative energy company based in South Dakota. His one donation from a PAC since then was $5,000 from Community Bancshares of Mississippi in May.

Instead, most of the money appeared to come in small donations. Nearly 60% of the $4.2 million Hawley raised in 2021 was in contributions smaller than $200, where the campaign doesn’t have to report the donor’s name.

“There was definitely a movement of let’s get rid of this guy, silence him, put a scarlet letter on him, etc., and that didn’t work,” said James Harris, a Republican political consultant in Missouri. “But as a result of that, I think a lot of conservatives have gravitated toward him.”

Prior to 2020, politicians had already begun to move away from large corporate donations and toward smaller contributions from the grassroots bases of their respective parties. Democrats have used online platforms like ActBlue as a way to bring in billions from voters. Republicans came out with their own version in 2019 called WinRed.

But while Hawley has brought in significant money largely without the help of PACs, some still donated to Marshall, whose votes against certifying the elections in Arizona and Pennsylvania were among his first as a U.S. senator.

Tyson Foods, Acadia Healthcare, insurance company Lockton Inc. and tobacco company Reynolds American were among the businesses that donated to Marshall. In all, his joint fundraising committee collected $49,500 from PACs through June, according to its latest report to the Federal Election Commission. His PAC raised another $18,000.

The money was split between the Kansas Republican Party, donations to other politicians and Marshall’s own campaign accounts.

While, Marshall raised much less than when he was actually running for the Senate in 2020, his Senate campaign still accumulated $158,358.69 through Sept. 30.

“Senator Marshall saw the single largest increase of small dollar individual donors of his career in 2021,” said Brent Robertson, Marshall’s chief of staff. “Overall, fundraising for Team Marshall exceeded our expectations, especially since Senator Marshall is in his first year, which is typically a very relaxed and minimal fundraising year for senators.”

On Tuesday night, Hawley appeared on Fox News with host Tucker Carlson, saying Democrats were just trying to make people afraid. In an op-ed Fox News published Wednesday, he said the response to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 has been overblown.

“The most surprising outcome – and the day’s true legacy – was the Left’s attempt to use the Capitol unrest to foster a permanent climate of fear and repression,” Hawley wrote.