Corporations spent four years grappling with the volatile Mr. Trump and how best to react to his unpredictable actions, some of which ran counter to the values of their employees and customers. After Mr. Trump’s refusal to commit to a smooth transition, many business leaders began a more sustained conversation about what — if anything — they could do.
On Nov. 23, more than 160 executives signed a letter demanding a swift presidential transition. Some of the executives discussed withholding donations from the Republican candidates for Senate in Georgia if party leaders did not do more to facilitate the transition.
On Jan. 5, the day before the violence at the Capitol, senior executives from Merck, Disney, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley and others revisited the notion of withholding contributions in a call with historians and constitutional experts, said two people who participated in the call. A poll of the call’s participants showed that 100 percent believed it was a good idea to privately warn lobbyists that their companies would no longer support election “deniers,” according to a copy of the poll results obtained by The New York Times. Yet no concrete plan emerged.
That changed after Wednesday.
Early Thursday, calls began for corporations to end their support for Republican lawmakers who either supported Mr. Trump’s agenda during his term or objected to certifying the election. Steve Schmidt, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a group of conservatives critical of Mr. Trump, said in a Twitter post that his organization “will be running a brutal corporate pressure campaign,” targeting boards, chief executives, and companies that helped finance the politicians that may have set off the Capitol attacks. His group had already been pressuring Citi, AT&T and Charles Schwab over their support for Mr. Hawley and Mr. Cruz, who had taken leadership roles in opposing the election certification.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Schmidt said that companies — including banks like Citi and JPMorgan — that had halted all political donations instead of specifically focusing on the objectors were missing the point.
“The issue isn’t suspending all political donations,” he said. “The issue isn’t even suspending all donations to conservatives who largely supported Donald Trump. The issue is suspending donations to seditionists, people that incited an insurrection.”
Big banks have in the past withheld political donations to convey their disapproval, usually only temporarily. In 2015, Goldman Sachs and PNC Financial Services halted donations to Scott Garrett, a Republican with an influential position on the House Financial Services Committee, after he objected to Republican congressional candidates that were gay. That same year, representatives from Citi, JPMorgan and other big banks met to talk about a coordinated freeze on donations to Senate Democrats in order to express disapproval over Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a sharp critic of big banks.
Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.