Robert Gehrke: Companies withholding cash from Utah’s Chris Stewart is a start, but we’ll see if it matters

Primary challengers would be a more effective protest after Electoral College vote.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump became the first president to be impeached twice.

He’s faced condemnations and calls for his resignation or removal. He’s been banned from his favorite social media platforms. Even in his own party, some who held their noses and accepted his antics for years are cutting ties.

But there also may be some fallout for those who enabled the president and were willing to condone and amplify his lies that the election was “stolen,” even voting against the certification of the election results after rioters ransacked the Capitol — people like Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens.

Dozens of companies have shut off the money spigot, cutting off the millions of dollars they pour into congressional campaigns. Some are explicitly excluding those who voted against the election certification. Others are temporarily suspending all contributions while they review their policies on political giving.

But the bigger question is: Will it make a difference? And the answer, it seems, is probably not.

Between Stewart and Owens, the former has obviously been a larger benefactor of these corporate contributions — that’s because he’s been in office longer and corporate money typically flows more freely to sitting lawmakers rather than those challenging incumbents.

The money that Stewart has received from these companies is not insignificant.

According to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics and the Center For Responsive Politics on Stewart’s five bids for Congress, the Utah Republican could take his biggest hit from defense contractors.

For example, Lockheed Martin, which has suspended political donations, has given $40,000 to Stewart’s campaign. Raytheon Technologies, which has done the same, has pumped $33,000 to Stewart’s election bids while Boeing has given $36,000.

Among those who have only suspended donations to Republicans who opposed the election certification, Verizon gave $12,500, AT&T has given $12,000, General Electric $9,000, and Comcast kicked in $7,000.

All told I was able to identify $232,500 that has flowed to the congressman (there is probably more) from companies that have either said they will no longer donate to members who challenged the election results or have suspended their donations entirely.

Conceptually, this seems like a good strategy: Hit ‘em where it hurts — the pocketbook.

And it’s also a surprisingly altruistic decision, in the sense that it puts the sanctity of our democracy ahead of corporate interests. Indeed, burning bridges with members of Congress could come back to bite these companies.

But I have doubts as to how effective it will ultimately be. Here’s why.

First, most of these companies have merely suspended donations for a limited time — six months to a year. Right now is not prime fundraising time. If the money starts to flow in the summer or early next year, it’s merely a hiccup.

Second, while these are big donations, they’re a drop in the bucket in the largest context. The nearly quarter million dollars that Stewart has received from them, for example, is roughly 6% of all the money he has raised. Unless the movement picks up steam, it doesn’t put a dent in his campaign.

Third, there’s the example of Owens. Yes, as a new congressman, he was in line to start seeing the corporate money flow (and he probably will), but he did fine without it, raising nearly $5 million.

Not only that, Owens’ biggest donors, unsurprisingly, were all Trump loyalists — and an interesting group of them, too, people like Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts and Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus. On top of that he received $2.2 million in “unitemized” donations, small donors who often give to conservative groups that aggregate donations.

That money isn’t likely to disappear and his support for Trump’s conspiracy theories could solidify the support.

Finally, there’s a question mark about whether their districts will even be competitive in 2022, after the Legislature redraws the boundaries. Stewart has won re-election easily and I would expect that Owens, while barely winning in November, will have a safer district to defend next election.

So, at least as it comes to Stewart and Owens, the only real opportunity for them to be held accountable, unfortunately, will be if the non-QAnon wing of the party is fed up enough to not just make their displeasure known, not just withhold money — but run legitimate opponents in the GOP primary.

Unfortunately, I fear the radicals have metastasized in the ranks and won’t simply disappear between now and 2022 — and neither will Stewart or Owens.

Rep. Chris Stewart’s donations

Below are Rep. Chris Stewart’s campaign contributions for the past five elections from corporations that have said they will suspend all contributions or cease contributions to Republican members who supported the challenge to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory:

Ceasing donations to those who supported Trump’s challenge:

Verizon: $12,500

AT&T: $12,000

American Express: $11,500

General Electric: $9000

Comcast: $7000

Walmart: $3,000

Suspending all donations pending further review:

Lockheed Martin: $40,000

Boeing: $36,000

Raytheon Technologies: $29,500

Union Pacific: $21,000

Google: $13,000

JP Morgan: $12,500

Ford: $9500

Goldman Sachs: $8,000

Citigroup: $6,000

Microsoft: $2,000