Companies Respond to Insurrection

Thom Weidlich 01.14.21

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The insurrection in Washington, D.C., last week forced corporations to decide whether and how to communicate a response. Much of the messaging was surprisingly emotional. There was also a flood of statements from companies that said they would suspend political donations to members of Congress who supported the effort to not certify the Electoral College vote.

Given the recent willingness of companies to speak out on tough political issues, it was perhaps unsurprising that many companies — usually the CEOs — commented on the violence at the Capitol. And while some invoked the inevitable clichés, some also didn’t refrain from pointing fingers. Times have changed, and companies deciding how to respond to such situations should take note.

For example, in a memo to employees on the company’s website, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson wrote in remarkably vivid terms. “Democracy was put to the test like never before after a group of insurgents used violence to temporarily stop the counting of electoral votes in Congress for the U.S. presidential election,” he wrote. “It was a stunning, outrageous, and unprecedented attack against this nation and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Americans.”

It’s hard to imagine a corporate leader speaking like that even a year ago. Sorenson was careful to recognize that Marriott’s employees and customers held differing views on the election (many other companies ignored that issue). “In the U.S., we can use our voice and our vote to share our views,” he wrote. “But what we can’t do is trample the Constitution; we can’t use violence and terror to force an agenda.”

The campaign contributions issue heated up this week, and presented its own challenges. It’s the kind of issue a company would want time to ponder, but stakeholders wanted to know their take on the situation. And companies do risk backlash from, for example, customers upset at their decisions. (Cynics also pointed out that the announcements came in the quarter after an election, when political contributions typically go down anyway.)

Political Giving

Companies that said they would curtail their political giving to Republicans who opposed certifying the Electoral College vote reportedly included American Express, Best Buy, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Mastercard, Morgan Stanley and Verizon, among others.

In a Jan. 8 statement, Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Kim Keck said the federation of insurance companies would “suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy.” She added, “While a contrast of ideas, ideological differences and partisanship are all part of our politics, weakening our political system and eroding public confidence in it must never be.”

Airbnb’s complete statement on Jan. 11 was: “Airbnb strongly condemns last week’s attack on the US Capitol and the efforts to undermine our democratic process. We will continue to uphold our community policies by banning violent hate group members when we learn of such memberships, and the Airbnb PAC will update its framework and withhold support from those who voted against the certification of the presidential election results.” (Just yesterday the company said it would cancel all reservations in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration week.)

On Tuesday, Hallmark Cards Inc., based in Kansas City, Missouri, went a step further. In its statement, it announced that it had asked two Republican senators from its area to return contributions made to them by Hallmark’s political action committee.  “The recent actions of Senators Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall do not reflect our company’s values,” it wrote.

Tough stuff.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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