For corporations, GOP Convention is bad business

Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: Companies face increasing pressure from petitions to "Dump Trump"
  • He says GOP lawmakers are hedging over whether to attend their convention

Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)If there is one thing we can count on Donald Trump to deliver, it is controversy. From the day his campaign began, the Republican front-runner has been blunt, outspoken and frequently offensive. Now, just as Trump is attempting to present a more presidential image, the GOP has a new Trump-related headache.

Activist groups, particularly those representing minorities and women, are pressing major corporations not to sponsor the Republican convention in July. They hope to persuade companies like Microsoft and Google to drop out of sponsoring what is sure to be a contentious event.
    These groups have the right idea by speaking out against corporate backing for Cleveland. By sponsoring the GOP convention, companies would be providing a platform for Trump's ugly rhetoric. It is bad messaging and poor business strategy for corporations to be seen as promoting the increasingly toxic Trump brand. Over the course of his campaign thus far, Trump has insulted Latinos, immigrants, women, Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters, disabled people, and journalists.
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    It is likely that he will dominate convention coverage, just as he has dominated this year's primary season. Why would any corporation want their name associated with such a divisive figure? It hardly matters that companies' dollars would go to support the Cleveland Host Committee, not Trump himself. Consider the footage of violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention, which has been replayed on television countless times.
    Now imagine similar scenes taking place in Cleveland in July -- this time with signage for Google or Microsoft in the background. No consumer could un-see that image.
    The pressure calling on corporations to "Dump Trump" at the convention is real and growing. An online petition sponsored by the Color of Change has over 177,000 signatures. Another one from the progressive group Credo has over 56,000 signatures, and there are others by women's groups and Latino advocacy groups as well.
    Some companies are already getting the message loud and clear. Although a spokesman declined to identify the specific reasoning behind the company's decision, Coca-Cola has already agreed to limit its role at the GOP convention, according to The New York Times. In contrast to 2012, when Coke kicked in $660,000 to the Republican convention, this year they are capping their contribution at $75,000.
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    "It's important for Google and Microsoft to be reminded that sponsorship of a Trump-led convention helps legitimize and normalize Trump's hate," reads the Credo petition. This sentiment is absolutely on point. Although corporations routinely give money and in-kind donations to both political parties for their conventions, the 2016 Republican convention will be anything but a routine event.
    On a practical level if nothing else, this is a convention that corporations would be wise to avoid. While it remains to be seen if Trump will amass the needed delegates before Cleveland, he has suggested that there will be trouble if he does not emerge with the nomination. Last week, he warned of a "rough July" if the GOP doesn't "straighten out" the delegate system, and he has previously said that there will be "riots" if he were denied the nomination.
    Delegates have already faced death threats they say come from Trump supporters. Convention organizers clearly anticipate chaos, as evidenced by the fact that Cleveland is seeking bids on 2,000 sets of riot gear for its police force in advance of the convention.
    This is not a question of Republican versus Democrat. It is an issue of right versus wrong. If there were a leading Democratic candidate espousing Trump-like views, they, too, would deserve to be the focus of a potential consumer boycott. The online petitions to "Dump Trump" are a signal that consumers will not support companies that condone bigotry, racism and sexism. Those in control of corporate sponsorship at these leading companies would do well to heed them.
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    Sure, it is unfair to corporations that they suffer the consequences of Trump's misbehavior. However, corporations always evaluate celebrities and organizations before becoming involved with them. When a celebrity linked to a company has problems, companies are usually quick to drop them as a matter of public relations.
    Here we have a situation that is controversial and volatile from the get-go. Google and Microsoft, along with other companies that claim diversity as a corporate value, must seriously rethink sponsoring the Trump-fest in Cleveland.
    And to be clear, a lack of corporate support does not mean the GOP convention will not go on. Organizers will simply have to find other sources of funding. Mitt Romney's finance team helped raise money for the Republican convention in 2012, while Michael Bloomberg wrote a personal check for $2 million to cover the shortfall in New York City in 2004.
    The most damning clue as to how chaotic the GOP convention is likely to be comes from Republican lawmakers themselves. Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Richard Burr of North Carolina, have expressed reservations about attending the Republican Convention. Arizona Sen. John McCain has said would be too busy campaigning to attend, while Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he is unsure about going because of the cost of a hotel room. These lawmakers all seem to grasp that any association with Trump might prove irreversibly damaging.
    If GOP lawmakers can foresee the public relations nightmare that the Republican convention is shaping up to be, surely corporate sponsors should hesitate before putting their names on it as well. Corporations should do the smart thing -- and the right thing -- by closing their checkbooks and staying away.