Businesses cut off cash to D.C. after lawmakers challenged election results. Could Harrisburg be next?

By: - January 14, 2021 7:12 am

Sens. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe (L) and David Argall (R) at a November meeting of the state Senate Majority Policy Committee, where Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani aired baseless conspiracy theories about Pennsylvania’s Nov. 3 election. (screen capture)

As U.S. Rep. Scott Perry prepared to cast a vote rejecting Pennsylvania’s certified election results last week, he justified his decision by pointing to a letter he received one day from 21 state senators.

“When Members of our PA General Assembly have concerns, it’s my DUTY to have concerns, too,” Perry, who represents central Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district, tweeted last Tuesday, after Republican members of the state Senate signed a letter urging Congress to delay the Electoral College vote scheduled for Wednesday.

“The PA Senate has asked Congress to DELAY [certification] … I’m obliged to concur,” Perry continued.

In the week since that vote was interrupted by a bloody siege of the U.S. Capitol, dozens of businesses have taken a hard line against Perry and 146 of his GOP colleagues. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Philadelphia-based Comcast, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association have said their political action committees (PACs) will no longer write campaign checks to Congressional Republicans who voted to reject certified election results.

Many of those same companies or their affiliates also contribute to state-level campaigns in Pennsylvania. 

But they have not said whether they’ll extend those bans to legislative Republicans who asked Congress to delay Wednesday’s Electoral College vote — appeals that were cited by the same federal lawmakers who now find themselves on corporate blacklists.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that some firms will do that,” Dave Patti, the former head of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Business Council, a pro-business political action committee, told the Capital-Star this week. “Their decision-makers were shocked and appalled and upset by what happened, [and] their shareholders and clients will care.”

Political donors in Pennsylvania, however, have so far been mum. Only one told the Capital-Star that it would review its political spending in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

This is an issue that will be taken up with [our] board,” Tricia Harris, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the board that oversees its political donations, said Wednesday.

The organization’s Chamber PAC donated $137,480 to political campaigns in 2020, state campaign finance records show. Harris did not respond to further questions asking who broached the topic with the board and whether that discussion was an agenda item at the board’s next meeting.

The Harrisburg-based CapitalBlue PAC, which donated $71,000 to Pennsylvania campaigns this year, has not made a decision regarding donations to any legislative campaigns, its spokesman said Wednesday. 

Its national affiliate, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said it would halt Congressional campaign donations “to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy.”

The Philadelphia-based telecom giant Comcast, meanwhile, announced Monday that it would “suspend all of our political contributions to those elected officials who voted against certification of the electoral college votes.”

A spokesman referred to that statement and declined further comment when asked whether the policy would extend to legislative Republicans in Pennsylvania.

Campaign finance records show it reported nearly $400,000 in campaign donations to the Pennsylvania Department of State last year, cutting checks up to $5,000 to campaigns of Republican leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers in the statehouse.

They were agreeing with the objectors”

Pennsylvania Republicans have been at the center of challenges to the state’s election results, arguing on cable news and in courts that the Wolf administration tried to bring about Democratic victories on Nov. 3.

The state’s Republicans roundly blasted Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the state Supreme Court for directives they gave to counties administering the state’s new vote-by-mail law. 

A small number embraced the Trump campaign’s baseless claims that his victory was stolen by widespread voter fraud. 

But more than 70 legislative Republicans signed letters in January and December urging Congress to reject the state’s election results.

Bruce Ledewitz, a professor of constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh, pointed out that state lawmakers have no legal standing in the electoral college vote count. 

Their job is to write the laws that govern voting and elections – once that system is in place, Ledewitz said, “they have no more legal role to play.”

But by asking Congress to delay the results, lawmakers were using their limited power to signal solidarity with lawmakers who voted to reject them.

“It’s the same action,” Ledewitz, also a Capital-Star opinion contributor, said. “They were agreeing with the objectors.” 

“We should understand this as part of the same project” to sow doubt in the election results, he added. 

While powerless on their face, the appeals from state lawmakers did reverberate beyond Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. 

In addition to Perry, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., cited the Jan. 4 letter from Pennsylvania state senators when he voted to reject the Commonwealth’s election results. 

“Just this week, members of the Pennsylvania Senate pleaded with members of this body to delay certification until the Supreme Court could resolve these issues,” Budd said on the House floor [last] Wednesday, hours after the chamber was overtaken by the violent mob of Trump supporters. 

Pennsylvania Republicans roundly condemned the violence at the Capitol last Wednesday. They were largely silent, however, as Congress undertook the Electoral College vote that they hoped to delay. 

Some political operatives are skeptical that private companies would enforce a blacklist against all the legislators who cast aspersions on the election results, given what’s at stake for those companies in Harrisburg.

When it comes to a heavily regulated commercial giant like Comcast, “it would be hard to imagine that they’d take themselves out of state politics,” said veteran GOP operative Chris Nicholas. 

Patti agreed that companies might be especially hesitant to halt donations to high-ranking Republicans.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, or Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, both signed letters asking Congress to object to the state’s Electoral College vote, but they also wield enormous power over the legislative agenda in Harrisburg.

However, Patti said corporate donors may find it easier to cut ties with rank-and-file lawmakers who vocally supported Trump’s conspiracy theories.

“You can stand on principle at little cost to yourself,” Patti said.

Either way, Republicans aren’t yet losing sleep over the potential loss of campaign dollars — even after the most expensive set of state legislative campaigns in the commonwealth’s history.

“I think corporations, just like individuals, have choices to make,” said House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre. “Who they chose to give to is up to them.”

Capital-Star reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this report. 

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.