Threats To Punish Companies That Stopped Political Donations Highlights Collapse of Ethics

The U.S. Capitol building under dark gray skies.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has called on the U.S. House Committee on Ethics to act immediately on lawmakers’ public threats of punishing companies that are withholding political contributions in response to the Capitol riot. Over 70 companies announced that they will suspend some or all of their political action committee (PAC) contributions after the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

In response many companies decided to terminate PAC campaign contributions. Following these announcements, there has been push back from congressional staffers for both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

It has been reported that staffers have said they would allow legislation that would be harmful to companies that have pulled their political donations to pass without objection and ban lobbyists from those same companies from coming into their offices.

Lawmakers revealing that they are considering punishing companies based on political contributions is no different from extortion. The very public nature of the threats is yet another symptom of the collapse of core ethics rules in Congress.

Just like it is not OK for wealthy special interests to have special access to lawmakers or receive special favors in response for their political contributions, it also not OK for lawmakers to promote a pay-to-play culture by publicly listing consequences for those who do not contribute.

The U.S. House of Representatives rules are clear that, “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 consideration.”

The U.S. House committee has also stated that, “members and staff should always exercise caution to avoid even the appearance that solicitations of campaign contributions are connected in any way with an action taken.”

The Committee on Ethics needs to immediately address these congressional staff threats, and at the very least needs to issue a statement prohibiting this conduct. If the committee fails to act, the tone set for this new Congress will be one that tells the American people fundamental ethics principles don’t need to be enforced and mean nothing.

Tracy handles media relations for the CLC campaign finance and ethics teams and creates online content.