The backlash was swift. And short-lived.
It was supposed to cost candidates who backed former President Donald Trump amid his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
It hasn’t cost Alex Mooney much.
The Republican and West Virginia transplant was one of 147 members of Congress who objected to certifying the presidential election results in January hours after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol seeking to overturn the election that sent Democrat Joe Biden to the White House.
Much of corporate America initially withdrew support from lawmakers who objected to certification. Giants such as AT&T, Dow Inc., Comcast, Morgan Stanley, AT&T and Walmart, which donated to Mooney and fellow objector Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., in the 2020 election cycle, suspended contributions from their political action committees to candidates who opposed certification.
Other companies suspended all campaign contributions, registering their dismay with the Capitol breach that left a 35-year-old woman fatally shot, a Capitol police officer dead by suicide shortly afterward, dozens of officers injured, lawmakers hiding from rioters and the Capitol itself vandalized.
Exactly 100 days after the attack, Mooney’s campaign filed the second of two committee finance reports indicating the corporate backlash stemming from the storming hadn’t taken much out of his war chest.
All about access
In filings with the Federal Election Commission, Mooney’s two campaign committees reported $39,042 in contributions from political committees in the first quarter of 2021, down slightly from $43,250 in the first quarter of the last election cycle in April 2019.
Mooney’s campaign cash on hand totals $2.4 million, nearly twice as much as it did at the same point in the last election cycle.
“[W]e expect to have a larger war chest going into 2022 than any previous cycle,” Mooney’s campaign said in a statement.
Miller’s campaign took a bigger hit, raising just $22,000 from political committees in the first quarter of this cycle after an $83,500 haul at this point in the last cycle.
“That’s a pretty lackluster fundraising quarter,” said Eleanor Neff Powell, an associate political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Typical congressional incumbents spend well north of $1 million, and she’s way behind that pace.”
But Miller’s 2021 first-quarter individual contributions neared those from the last cycle’s opening quarter, and in a sign of the GOP’s confidence in her outreach, the National Republican Congressional Committee named her its candidate recruitment chairwoman in February.
Miller expects a funding boost from political action committees.
“Many of the groups ... paused political giving and have since restarted,” Matthew Donnellan, Miller’s chief of staff said in an email. “The rest will follow shortly.”
The political action committee for Toyota Motor North America contributed $1,000 apiece to Mooney’s campaign Feb. 4 and Miller’s on March 22 after the company suspended political donations.
“Toyota supports candidates based on their position on issues that are important to the auto industry and the company,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”
The National Association of Realtors PAC contributed $2,000 to Miller’s campaign March 26 after the company suspended contributions. Company spokesman Wes Shaw said in an email the committee lifted the pause after a meeting of its Board of Trustees.
“This decision will ensure we continue to engage with political candidates in an effort to support America’s homeowners and our nation’s real estate industry,” Shaw said.
FirstEnergy has not resumed donations.
“FirstEnergy’s Board and management are making significant changes in our approach to political and legislative engagement and advocacy,” FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said in an email. “Our political process engagement will be much more limited than it has been in the past with additional oversight and closer alignment to our strategic goals ... We have not determined when contributions will resume.”
For many companies, there’s only so much value in sending a message about the integrity of American democracy when access to legislators is at stake.
“I’m skeptical that their pause in contributions will endure too long, that some of this isn’t sort of a temporary PR [public relations] move so that they would look concerned about these issues,” Powell said. “I think for a lot of these corporate interests, there’s a lot on the line with these contributions. They aren’t simply just contributing altruistically.”
Companies donate to register their voices in rooms of power.
“You make this contribution, you can get face time with the member who’s helping to write [and] tailor the legislation that’s relevant to your industry,” Powell said.
“Some of the PACs that are putting a pause on giving to election objectors are going to come back,” said Michael Kang, a research professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “The number of PACs that are really going to stop giving only to election objectors but give to everyone else is probably not going to change the game very much.”
Giving generally down
Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., voted to certify the election, but contributions to his campaign from individuals dropped 64% to $8,735 from the first quarter of 2019 to the opening quarter of 2021. His campaign’s political committee fundraising bested the Miller and Mooney campaigns last quarter just as it did in the first quarter of 2019 but still dropped 33% to $58,250 between cycles.
McKinley’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
Contributions to candidates across the region fell in the first quarter of 2021 regardless of stances on certifying the presidential election results.
Among nine House members across West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio who objected to the presidential election results, eight saw their campaigns’ political committee fundraising decline from the first quarter of the previous cycle and six saw individual contributions decrease.
Among 16 House members throughout the three states who did not vote to oppose the results and who remained in office, 13 saw political committee contributions drop and eight saw individual contributions fall from the 2019 to the 2021 first quarters.
If all three of West Virginia’s representatives in the U.S. House run next year, campaigning could get expensive.
Because the state’s nation-leading population loss will cost it a congressional seat, one of them will be out after 2022, either six-term incumbent McKinley, 74, of Wheeling; four-term incumbent Mooney, 49, of Charles Town; or two-term incumbent Miller, 70, of Huntington.
All three said in a joint statement they plan to seek reelection but will reassess their candidacies after the Legislature redraws the state’s congressional map.
“You now may have to potentially spend more because you now have voters in your district who you’ve never built a relationship with or who may or may not know very much about you,” Powell said. “Often that means spending more on outreach or advertising or that sort of stuff, and it can often be a really expensive primary race if the other House member doesn’t drop out.”
Mooney’s war chest is six times larger than McKinley’s ($399,000) and 36 times larger than Miller’s ($66,000). Mooney’s is built largely on out-of-state contributions.
Of the 47 individual contributions to Mooney’s campaign in the first quarter of 2021, 44 came from out of state.
“Patriotic donors from across the country donate to Mooney for Congress because they agree with his conservative positions,” Mooney’s campaign said.
Out-of-state support for candidates has become increasingly common as individual donors look to strengthen campaigns key to securing their preferred party’s control of Congress and back outspoken lawmakers with national profiles.
Mooney is from out of state himself, previously serving in the Maryland State Senate from 1999 to 2011 and as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party until his resignation in 2013. Mooney has faced criticism that he is not often seen in the district.
“Often, it can be a deadly thing from a primary race perspective if the opponents can paint you as sort of out of touch with the district, not representing the local folks,” Powell said. “It can be certainly a campaign liability, and sometimes there are candidates that work to boost their in-state fundraising just so their out-of-state numbers don’t look too bad.”
But Mooney’s overall numbers look just fine less than four months after he objected to signing off on certifying the will of the voters. Powell predicts more PAC funding reinforcement on the way for all candidates who did the same.
“Time will have passed and I would expect most of these groups to return to their contribution patterns,” Powell said. “But maybe they’ll be a little more cautious about the views of the people they’re contributing to.”