GOP lobbyists say corporate America is coming back into the tent

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Republican lawmakers appear more likely to take back Congress in 2022. And corporate America is taking notice.

A host of Republican lobbyists say that Tuesday’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey have ignited interest from their corporate clients on making inroads with GOP officials on the Hill. They suspect that cash will soon start flowing from corporate PACs to their party’s lawmakers too.

“After talking to several clients today, they’ll be a lot more aggressively Republican giving” over the next six months, said Brian Ballard, a top GOP lobbyist with ties to the former Trump administration, in an interview on Wednesday. He added that things were finally looking up for Republican campaigns, in terms of donations from his firm’s corporate clients: “It’s much more bullish for Republicans than it was perhaps six months ago.”

Campaign money flows to those holding power or those positioned to do so, and those in the lobbying business are incentivized to play up their role in facilitating it. But corporate America’s potential embrace of the congressional GOP is notable for what preceded it. Following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, many top corporations vowed to withhold their political donations to the Republican lawmakers who objected to the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory, which includes members in the House GOP leadership ranks. Comcast, Mastercard, American Express and others announced they would not give to those lawmakers; others suspended political contributions entirely.

Some of those companies, such as the aerospace and defense contracting giant Boeing, have since backed off their pledges, including giving to members who objected to the election results. And the Virginia and New Jersey results (in which Democrats lost the governor’s election and barely held on, respectively) seem likely to accelerate that trend.

Boeing told reporters after it resumed donations that it would “continue to carefully evaluate” its giving to support candidates who back its priorities.

Interviews with about a half-dozen GOP-connected lobbyists reveal that the results of the off-year election bode well for the party’s fundraising from companies that had soured on giving after Jan. 6. Some corporations are moving to resume relationships with members from whom they had distanced themselves about a year ago. Several lobbyists said they knew of companies that planned to resume their giving in early 2022 or were in the midst of conversations over how to restart it. The implications of the results on Tuesday, namely that Republicans are likely to regain chairmanships of key committees with jurisdiction over their interests, provide some cover if they face any pushback, lobbyists said.

“Where we are today from where we were six to eight months ago is a fundamentally different political environment,” said David Tamasi, managing director of Chartwell Strategy Group and a lobbyist with ties to former President Donald Trump. “I think people are realizing that you know it’s likely that the House is gonna flip, and that you’re gonna have to engage with some of the folks that are going to have greater political profiles than they did previously.”

For those on K Street, corporate PAC donations serve as a key tool for access and favors. And the decision to withhold donations vexed GOP lawmakers, two Republican lobbyists said. Additionally, GOP lobbyists at major companies have grown frustrated with expectations that they are supposed to deliver results for their businesses while unable to give to those members who objected to the results of the election, according to one K Street insider. The same lobbyist speculated that the GOP’s frustration with the business community over the lack of donations could cause the party to be less amenable to corporate interests.

Even the decision to resume giving is complicated. Companies who have walked back on their pledge have faced critical media coverage for doing so. The liberal group End Citizens United has called out companies one by one.

Republican lobbyists said the events on Jan. 6 created a chasm between the business world and their longtime allies in the GOP, though some of the break preceded that particular event. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, funded several Democratic congressional candidates during the Trump years, leading GOP operatives to call for the party to shun the group.

The K Street lobbyists interviewed by POLITICO offered differing opinions on the long-term impact of the split. Some said Republicans remain frustrated with the corporate community for villainizing members who objected to the Electoral College certification. But Ballard, for one, said, “time heals all.”

Evidence of the healing — and how long it still may take — came even before the election results were in. On Tuesday, a group of GOP K Streeters held a fundraiser for Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader. Jordan could potentially be the next House Judiciary Committee chair if Republicans take back power in 2022. But Sam Geduldig, co-CEO of CGCN Group, a powerful Republican firm in Washington, said it had “trouble raising” PAC money for the event. A GOP source informed POLITICO that the event raised about $50,000 for Jordan’s campaign, with few PAC contributions.

But Geduldig suspects things will change in light of Tuesday’s results.

“I think they’ll want to figure out how to repair relationships with people that hold gavels and hold chairmanships that are important,” Geduldig said.