New York - A growing number of prominent US corporations are opting to drop or scale back their sponsorship of the Republican national convention next month in Cleveland, as the nomination of Donald Trump promises a level of controversy rarely seen in such gatherings.
Among those to signal in recent days that they won't sponsor the convention this year are Wells Fargo, United Parcel Service, Motorola, JPMorgan Chase, Ford and Walgreens Boots Alliance. All of those companies sponsored the previous Republican conclave, in Tampa, Florida, in 2012.
None would comment publicly on the reason for the decision or say whether Trump played a role. Many said they wouldn't support the Democratic convention either. The Cleveland host committee, which raised much of the money it needed more than a year ago, says that fundraising remains on track.
Big corporations usually shy away from partisan politics, but they often support conventions to promote their brands and schmooze with state and federal officials. Trump’s nomination threatens both of those priorities, according to Republican operatives who advise companies on political activities. A Trump spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
US campaign finance
Some top elected officials are skipping the convention this year, and there are threats of large-scale protests. At the same time, a group of liberal activists is applying pressure, arguing that corporate sponsors are implicitly endorsing Trump’s incendiary statements about Muslims, Mexican immigrants, and others.
“It’s a question of balancing the desire to be present at this convention versus brand association with one figure who is so polarising,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican media consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. “That's why the decision is so difficult, when otherwise it's so easy.”
Plenty of big companies and industry groups remain committed to the convention. The American Petroleum Institute, the chief trade group for the oil and gas industry and a top donor to the 2012 convention, told Bloomberg it “will be participating” this year, without elaborating on the form that would take. AT&T, Cisco Systems, Google, Twitter and Facebook have previously disclosed plans to provide technical services to the convention at no cost.
Bank of America wouldn't comment directly on its plans, but spokesperson Larry DiRita said it typically supports a convention if it has significant links to the community, and that Cleveland and Philadelphia, the site of the 2016 Democratic convention, "are both cities where we have a healthy community presence."
With just over a month to go before the doors open at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, some companies that have contributed to past events remain coy about their plans for this year. These include some of the largest companies targeted by the activist campaign, including Apple, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Xerox and Adobe. All of these companies declined to comment on their plans or didn’t return calls and e-mails.
“If any of their employees walked inside their jobs and said the things Donald Trump is saying on the campaign trail, in front of countless cameras and journalists, they would be fired,” said Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange PAC, one of the groups leading the activist campaign. “Corporations play a powerful role in sending a message to everyday people about what's acceptable in the public space. This is not a business-as-usual convention.”
There was a lull in new commitments to the convention around the time that Trump’s last Republican rivals dropped out of the running, according to Emily Lauer, a spokesperson for the Cleveland host committee. One company reneged on a previous commitment, but its decision was apparently unrelated to Trump, she said. Just in the past week or two, commitments have picked back up as the convention start date approaches.
“The sky is not falling,” she said.
The host committee is trying to raise $64m for the convention, and already has commitments of about $50.5m in cash and $7m in free products and services, Lauer said. Of the cash commitments, about $42.5m has already been collected. The committee is getting a big boost from the state and local governments, which committed $15m for the convention, and from local businesses such as KeyCorp, a top local bank.
“Fundraising has slowed down, but we will get there and, so far, we’ve raised considerably more money than any other convention has ever raised,” said James Dicke, a top Republican fundraiser in Ohio and national committeeman for the Republican National Committee.
Even before Trump’s last rivals for the presidential nomination dropped out in early May, some companies disclosed plans to scale back or drop their sponsorship, including Coca-Cola and Microsoft.
Ford’s role in the convention would have been especially fraught. Trump has repeatedly faulted the company for planning to build a plant in Mexico and vowed to stop such moves if he becomes president. As recently as March, Politico reported that Ford wouldn't say whether it would be a sponsor. This week, Christin Baker, a Ford spokesperson, told Bloomberg that the company decided more than a year ago not to sponsor either party’s convention and that “our focus is on state delegations” where the company has factories. She declined to give a reason for the change.
Wells Fargo, the country’s largest home lender, ponied up $500 000 to each party’s convention in 2012, and also supported both sides in 2008. This year, it will give to the Democrats’ gathering in Philadelphia, but not to the Republicans’, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. One factor, this person said, is that the bank has a big market share in Philadelphia - where the convention will be held at the Wells Fargo Centre - but not in Cleveland. The bank made the decision at the end of last year, before the primaries began, according to the person. Jennifer Dunn, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, declined to comment.
JPMorgan is also not planning to sponsor either convention this year after giving $200 000 to Tampa last time around, said a person with knowledge of the decision. The bank does plan to sponsor some public-service activities that are connected to each event. Andrew Gray, a spokesperson for JPMorgan, declined to comment.
Spokespeople for Walgreens, UPS, and Motorola also told Bloomberg this week that they won’t support either convention after giving to Tampa in 2012. UPS made the decision “well before” Trump was the presumptive nominee, said a spokesperson, Susan Rosenberg.
Trump has repeatedly riled minority groups, including the Hispanic community, a growing demographic that's important to many businesses. He's referred to some undocumented immigrants from Mexico as "rapists" and recently asserted that an American-born federal judge is biased against him because of the judge's Mexican heritage.
So, even if they decided not to sponsor the convention for other reasons, companies may have dodged unwelcome attention. Many of them, including UPS and JPMorgan, have special programmes targeting minority employees. Last year, Wells Fargo announced an effort to boost its mortgage lending to Hispanic customers by $125bn over 10 years.
MetLife, another of Tampa’s biggest sponsors, is not giving this year, but that has nothing to do with the nominee, said Christopher Stern, a spokesperson. Metlife doesn't normally sponsor conventions but did so in Tampa because it happened to have office space available near the convention centre. The contribution was valued at $1.2m.
- With assistance from Keith Naughton and Spencer Soper.