Businesses hit hard by Trump shutdown are suddenly silent about the GOP lawmakers they bankrolled
American businesses are losing hundreds of millions of dollars every day President Donald Trump’s partial government shutdown — now the longest on record — rages on. But few industry leaders say they are pressuring Republican members of Congress they bankrolled to end the shutdown — even though few have chosen to break ranks with the president to reopen the government with a veto-proof majority of votes.
Business organizations have vigorously objected to shutdowns before, particularly when they occurred under Democratic presidents.
In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, the conservative National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) likened a government shutdown to kings sacrificing the wellbeing of the peasants. William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist of the NFIB (which calls itself “the voice of small business”), said then that “the president’s ego is at stake. He refuses to compromise or negotiate.” Dunkelberg said the resulting impasse would hurt “the little people,” such as small businesses with government contracts and workers living paycheck-to-paycheck. “We need to elect better,” he concluded.
The organization responded by spending against Democrats: NFIB’s political action committee distributed millions of dollars — almost exclusively to Republican House and Senate candidates — in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 elections. But did they “elect better”? Six years after Dunkelberg’s statement, a Republican president has shut down the government to try to force American taxpayers to bankroll a border wall he’d promised Mexico would fully fund. Most congressional Republicans are standing with him.
This time, the NFIB has been suspiciously quiet, and it did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry. NFIB is not alone among interest groups representing the business community.
The nation’s largest business group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent millions of dollars in independent expenditures in 2018 in support of congressional Republicans, including recently appointed Arizona Sen. Martha McSally ($2 million), Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn ($1.5 million), Florida Sen. Rick Scott ($750,000), Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith ($675,000), Alabama Rep. Martha Roby ($342,902), Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez ($300,000), and Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon ($250,000).
These lawmakers are now standing with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to perpetuate the shutdown. The chamber sent an open letter to Congress on Jan. 8 noting that the “shutdown is harming the American people, the business community, and the economy.” The letter urged a compromise “that combines increasing border security with protection and legal status for Dreamers and long-term beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program” — a compromise that would the government immediately.
But asked if the chamber or its members were concerned that the candidates they bankrolled are obstructing efforts to reopen the government, a spokesperson told ThinkProgress only that “the letter covers it all on the impact of the shutdown.”
A ThinkProgress examination of corporate PAC contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee (the official campaign arms of the House and Senate Republican Conferences) found that hundreds of companies and trade associations contributed five-figure or larger donations in the 2018 campaign in support of the GOP majorities. Many of these PACs represented companies or industries already feeling the effects of the shutdown. ThinkProgress reached out to several to ask whether they would support the efforts by congressional Democrats and a few fed-up Republicans to reopen the government immediately.
The largest combined donor to the GOP committees was Northrop Grumman, funneling $330,000 through its primary corporate PAC and its subsidiary Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Inc. PAC. While the partial shutdown does not include the Defense Department, the contracting behemoth did release an announcement in December noting that “[s]ome activities may be impacted by the Government shutdown.” The company did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry.
Boeing ($196,000 in PAC donations) may also feel the harms of the shutdown. The Federal Aviation Administration is one of the shuttered agencies and its inspectors must approve any new planes added to an airline’s fleet, potentially impacting its sales. The company did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry.
Airlines are also feeling the pinch. Delta’s CEO told CNBC this week that the shutdown was costing his business about $25 million a month. His company gave $60,000 in PAC money to the Republican campaign committees. Asked whether Delta was pushing those lawmakers it helped elect to do something about the shutdown, a spokesperson told ThinkProgress, “We don’t have any comment beyond what our CEO, Ed Bastian, has already said publicly.”
United Airlines, which also gave $60,000 in PAC money, is also concerned. CEO Oscar Munoz told CNBC: “Clearly, the longer this goes, of course, there’s going to be impact, and we do worry about that.” A spokesperson forwarded to ThinkProgress a recent earnings call where company leaders “made clear our elected leaders in Washington need to reopen the government as soon as possible.”
American Airlines ($30,000 in PAC money) has reportedly experienced a hold-up in its aircraft approval, but did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry.
The rest of the travel and tourism industry is also suffering. A spokesperson for the U.S. Travel Association, which gave $45,000 in PAC donations to the House and Senate GOP committees, did not respond to questions about reopening the government but did note a recent press release in which the group estimated that shutdown could cost the travel economy “more than $100 million daily.”
The National Association of Realtors also spent big ($180,000 in PAC donations) to back congressional Republicans. A series of posts on the group’s website noted the negative impact the shutdown on federal housing and mortgage programs and other government agencies has already had on the real estate market. Nearly a quarter of the trade group’s members surveyed said they felt an impact on current and potential clients. In a video, the organization’s chief economist made clear the shutdown was harming the market and expressed hope that it would end soon. But the group did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the topic.
A related trade group — the Mortgage Bankers Association — donated $150,000 in PAC contributions to the GOP campaign committees. Back in 2013, the group’s then-president denounced a government shutdown and demanded its immediate end. “The federal government shutdown will have a growing impact on the housing market the longer it continues” David H. Stevens said. “If this shutdown is temporary, the ones affected most will be out of work federal employees. However, the longer it goes, the greater impact it will have on borrowers, the housing market, and the national economy.” This time around, the group has not posted a statement and did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry.
The beer industry is another consumer sector impacted by the shutdown. Companies are reportedly unable to launch any new products while the regulatory agencies overseeing them are shuttered. Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest beer company, gave $180,000 to the Republican campaign arms through its corporate PAC. The National Beer Wholesalers Association, the trade group for distributors, kicked in another $60,000. Neither responded to ThinkProgress inquiries.