Talking Points Memo: Many Corporations Have A Short-Term Memory When It Comes To The Trump Administration
By Kyle Herrig and Austin Evers
In the wake of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, many companies vowed publicly to stop supporting members of Congress who voted to overturn the election and sowed doubt about the legitimacy of the results in the minds of millions of Americans without providing a shred of evidence. It was understood that undermining the peaceful transfer of power went too far, even if that meant companies lost some clout in Washington.
Unfortunately, many companies’ commitments to democracy have proven weak or ephemeral compared to their desire for influence and power. Some have discovered a loophole to offset their direct contributions by making donations to party organizations that effectively funnel money to members who voted to overturn the election. Others, like Toyota, Lockheed Martin and more, either never stopped giving, or have resumed giving recently. Backsliding on their pledges is wrong, and it sends a clear message that crossing the Rubicon of democracy will not cost members of Congress anything — so why not try again?
The reversal on insurrection funding pledges also serves as a warning that companies may violate other commitments to their core values. For example, companies like Microsoft and Apple issued strong statements against the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border to deter immigrants coming to the United States, not wanting to be associated with the Trump administration’s cruel agenda. Companies declared that inflicting harm on families and children to achieve a policy goal crossed the line. To hire former Trump officials who implemented those cruel policies would make their previous statements meaningless.
Some companies made similar declarations following the attacks on American voting rights in state legislatures across the country that seek to target Black, brown, elderly, and disabled voters. Companies are engaged in expensive PR campaigns claiming they support the freedom to vote, all while funneling money to the political campaigns of state legislators and officials who are actively trying to undermine it.
These companies did the right thing during the Trump administration by speaking out — and they won positive public praise for doing so. But is anyone checking to see whether they are living up to their word in the post-Trump world? Are they hiring the architects of the policies they once criticized now that no one is watching?
In Washington, the revolving door between the private sector and government is continuously spinning, but corporations that hire former Trump officials responsible for some of the most cruel and undemocratic policies should be held accountable. It’s a question of values: Should a company who ardently opposed the family separation policy hire a senior official who helped design the policy? Should a law firm hire a former Trump official who used the Department of Justice as the president’s personal political arm of the White House?
Watchdog groups like ours, Accountable.US and American Oversight, are watching closely so the public can be aware if and when companies go back on their professed values by hiring people they previously condemned. We start from the companies’ own statements and then track whom they are hiring. If the companies are knowingly hiring architects of abhorrent policies, they will be exposed. We are hopeful that corporations will stand by their values rather than act as though the last four years were politics as usual — but if they don’t, we will hold them accountable.
Ultimately, the decision about whom to hire lies with individual companies. But when a hire conflicts with a corporation’s previously stated values, and if doing so would legitimize the four years of cruelty as policy, it should be made public. A company’s staff demonstrates its values and hiring former officials who crossed the line would send a message that a company does not value democracy, equality, and human decency.
Kyle Herrig is the president of Accountable.US.
Austin Evers is the executive director of American Oversight.