Land O’Lakes and Purina, the two companies that dumped Iowa Rep. Steve King this week over his incendiary comments, learned what a growing number of corporate interests are discovering in a hyper-partisan America: It doesn’t always pay to play in politics.
Faced with a barrage of online criticism, the dairy-products cooperative and the pet-food giant abruptly withdrew their support for the eight-term Republican congressman on Tuesday – just a week before the election. King’s controversial comments about race, ethnicity and immigrant status have drawn fresh scrutiny in recent days, following the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.
But the companies are just the latest to find themselves in the crosshairs of the public and activists by dint of their political contributions or views.
Earlier this year, supermarket chain Publix suspended its political contributions after it faced critcism for giving to Adam Putnam, a candidate then seeking the Republican nomination for Florida governor, for his ties to the National Rifle Association. The grocery chain’s move came as the survivors of a February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, staged “die-in” protests at several of its stores in Florida.
L.L. Bean, the Maine outdoor company famous for its flannel shirts and canvass tote bags, faced a backlash from some customers after a member of the Bean family, Linda Bean, emerged as a financial backer of President Donald Trump. On Twitter, Trump himself encouraged his supporters to “Buy L.L. Bean.”
An effort by a former marketing consultant in San Francisco, dubbed #GrabYourWallet, has called for boycotts of Trump-owned businesses or those run by people who back him. Earlier this year, three companies – CVS Health, Dow Chemical and Southern Company – said they would no longer donate to a pro-Trump nonprofit, America First Policies, after CNN and other news organizations reported racist comments made by the organization’s staffers.
And more recently, some Nike customers burned their shoes and cut Nike’s famous “swoosh” off their clothing in response to an ad campaign featuring unsigned NFL player Colin Kaepernick. He enraged Trump and the President’s conservative supporters by kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality.
“The environment today is hyper-polarized and really very toxic,” said Bruce Freed, who runs the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that promotes greater political transparency at publicly traded companies.
“Consumers and employees are much more sensitive to what they see the company associated with through their political spending,” he said. “They’ll move jobs or move dollar-wise in terms of their own spending” if they disagree with a company’s politics.
Land O’Lakes and Purina officials did not respond to CNN interview requests Wednesday but issued statements this week, saying King’s comments conflict with their corporate values. Officials with Intel, which announced over the weekend that it would no longer support King, declined to comment on the reasons behind the company’s move.
King – who faces a better-financed rival, Democrat J.D. Scholten on Election Day – also drew a rebuke this week from Rep. Steve Stivers, who heads the House campaign arm.
For his part, King has blamed “dishonest fake news” for the criticism and said it was orchestrated to help flip the House to Democrats and engineer Trump’s impeachment.
Business as usual
Political action committees associated with corporations long have donated to King, despite the immigration hard-liner’s long history of racially and ethnically insensitive comments. (He once declared that Mexicans have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from carrying drugs across the US-Mexico border.)
King, who sits on the House agriculture committee, received more than a quarter of his contributions in this election cycle from PACs, including those associated with agribusiness, figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show.
It’s not surprising a major dairy interest such as Land O’Lakes would donate to King and other members of a committee that helps set the nation’s farm policy. In all, the Minnesota-based company has contributed $12,000 to King since Jan. 1, 2008, including $2,500 this year, according to the Center’s data.
“It makes sense for a company to give to those who have jurisdiction over their issues – unless and until it becomes a liability,” said Sheila Krumholz, who runs the center.