Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman on Thursday said the riot at the US Capitol this week was “appalling and an affront to the democratic values we hold dear as Americans” — but Schwarzman is one of a number of GOP benefactors suddenly pretending to be shocked and outraged at the mayhem fomented by the politicians they bankroll.
In the last twenty-four hours, groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity and companies like Chevron have issued similar statements, without acknowledging the role they’ve played in helping elect the politicians who egged on and fueled the attempt to overturn the election. None of them have pledged to stop funding the Republicans politicians who egged on the insurrection and tried to overturn the election.
The question now is whether these sponsors will face any consequences for their decisions to fund a political movement that tried to effectively end American democracy.
Billionaire Kept Boosting Trump, Even as He Attacked Democracy
Schwarzman’s case is the most pronounced: the billionaire was one of Wall Street’s leading donors to Donald Trump and the Republican machine, ultimately getting himself appointed to a White House business council that shaped federal policies affecting his private equity firm. As Trump’s lawlessness and attacks on democratic institutions intensified, Schwarzman became the leading finance industry cheerleader for Trump’s reelection, pumping more than $40 million into Republican Party groups and a Trump super PAC during the 2020 election cycle.
Bloomberg reported that Schwarzman “single-handedly accounts for the vast bulk of the reported contributions toward Trump’s re-election effort over the past 18 months from people associated with the 31 banks and investment firms that dominate the U.S. financial industry.”
Even after the election, as Republicans began manufacturing propaganda to pretend the election was marred by fraud, Schwarzman “defended Donald Trump’s response to this year’s US poll results during an emergency meeting of senior business leaders alarmed by the president’s claims that the election is being stolen,” according to a Financial Times report.
The newspaper additionally reported that Schwarzman “took issue with suggestions made during the meeting that the U.S. could be on the verge of a coup,” and argued that Trump “was within his rights to challenge election results.”
One attendee later insisted that “Schwarzman never defended President Trump’s assertion that this was an unfair election or a stolen election.”
During the Georgia runoff races, Schwarzman pumped $15 million into a super PAC boosting the Republican incumbents, senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both said they would support challenging the certification of the Electoral College during their campaigns. (Loeffler changed course on Wednesday evening, while Perdue’s term officially expired before certification took place.)
“Knowing the president’s proclivity to lie and incite his followers, Mr. Schwarzman still supported his election campaigns,” New York Times business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote after Wednesday’s events. “Should that matter to pension funds and other investors doing business with Blackstone and its companies?”
It is a big question, considering Blackstone relies on billions of dollars of investments from state and local pension funds that manage the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, and other public workers.
Pennsylvania’s state pension fund, for instance, has paid more than $300 million of investment fees to Schwarzman’s firm. He has returned the favor by bankrolling the campaigns of the Republican politicians who have been trying to invalidate Pennsylvania’s election and potentially throw out the votes of the same workers whose savings have enriched Blackstone.
In the last few weeks, Trump officials have tried to pass last-minute rules making it more difficult for private pension funds to pull workers’ money out of investment firms based on concerns about the companies’ respect for human rights. Public pension funds, however, are not subject to those rules — which means Pennsylvania officials could try to divest from Schwarzman’s firm to make sure workers’ retirement money does not end up financing a political movement trying to overturn election results and undermine democratic institutions.
Pension funds in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington state, and other Democratic locales that invest in Blackstone could do the same.
“Why would public employee pension plans continue to invest in [a] private equity corp like Steve Schwarzman’s Blackstone who financed, benefited from & supported Trump & coup plotters?” tweeted Stephen Lerner, a former top labor union official who is now a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.
Corporate PAC Money Flowed to GOP Lawmakers Trying to Overturn the Election
In addition to Schwarzman, some of the nation’s largest and best-known corporations have also bankrolled the politicians who mounted Wednesday’s attempt to overturn the election. Popular Information reported that just twenty corporations have spent more than $16 million over the past six years backing the 138 Republican lawmakers publicly committed to rejecting certified Electoral College votes.
And corporate titans have routinely funded efforts at the state level to thwart democracy through partisan gerrymandering campaigns and voter suppression laws, The New Republic reported.
Corporations also bankrolled a group that helped organize the protest that precipitated Wednesday’s insurrection. Documented reported Wednesday that the Rule of Law Defense Fund, an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), was listed as one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest. RAGA received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions last year from Koch Industries, Comcast Corporation, Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, Google, and other corporate donors.
Some of the companies and organizations that have spent big to elect insurrectionist Republican lawmakers in Washington are speaking out against the riot now as if they have been passive bystanders all along.
While billionaire Charles Koch and his conservative dark money network have done more than nearly anyone to paint Congress deep red, his network’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity, issued a statement on Tuesday calling on Congress to certify the election. On Wednesday, the group said: “We join fellow Americans who are watching the violence at the U.S. Capitol with grave concern.”
Americans for Prosperity spent $4.6 million to help Missouri senator Josh Hawley defeat Claire McCaskill in 2018. Hawley led the effort among Senate Republicans to challenge certification of the election, and he was photographed raising a fist in support of the insurrectionists outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Thomas Donohue, who leads the US Chamber of Commerce, said on Wednesday that the “attacks against our nation’s Capitol Building and our democracy must end now,” and he called upon Congress to “gather again this evening to conclude their constitutional responsibility to accept the report of the Electoral College.” Earlier in the week, Donohue had condemned “efforts by some members of Congress to disregard certified election results.”
The Chamber, the nation’s top business lobby, spent nearly $5 million backing Senate Republicans this election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets. That included a $400,000 ad campaign to elect Kansas senator Roger Marshall, one of eight senators who voted on Wednesday to overturn the results of the Electoral College.
The Chamber spent a combined $1.4 million in support of Loeffler and Perdue’s campaigns in Georgia, and it also dropped $2 million in December on a holiday commercial telling people to thank the two senators for fighting for pandemic relief, which they didn’t really do.
Chevron, which donated $5.4 million this year to party-aligned super PACs working to elect Republican lawmakers, offered up a statement on Wednesday calling for “the peaceful transition of the U.S. government.”
Andrew Liveris, the former CEO of Dow Chemical, called the scenes at the Capitol on Wednesday “tragic,” saying they brought back “memories of my lived experiences in emerging economies with coups, brawls in parliament and street violence.”
In 2017, before Liveris retired, he donated $100,000 to the dark money group created by Trump allies to promote his agenda.