It should be Donald Trump’s coming out party. But corporate sponsors are in no mood to celebrate.
Some of America’s largest corporations, which backed the Republican National Convention that nominated Mitt Romney in 2012, are lurching away from sponsoring the 2016 confab. Under pressure from anti-Trump advocacy groups, corporations that have traditionally not hesitated to drop millions on national conventions are limiting their contributions and scaling back their activities.
Coca-Cola, for example, contributed $660,000 to the convention in 2012 but is dramatically drawing down the amount it is giving this year. The corporation gave $75,000 to both parties’ conventions this time around, a company spokesman told The Daily Beast, stressing that the contribution took place in 2015. Coca-Cola has indicated to anti-Trump groups that it will not give any more.
And Microsoft, which contributed $1.5 million in cash and services to the Republican National Convention in 2012, said in a press release just days ago that it “decided last fall to provide a variety of Microsoft technology products and services instead of making a cash donation.” If it did indeed make that decision last fall, it put off the announcement until just last week, after an anti-Trump coalition had began pounding its drums.
“Both Coca-Cola and Microsoft have agreed to end cash donations to political conventions that promote hate and bigotry, and we applaud their decision to do so,” said Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, which is part of the coalition. “We hope that other companies will take their lead and send a strong message against hate.”
Still, some of America’s largest technology companies are charging full steam ahead. AT&T, which provided $3 million in 2012, will be an official communications provider for the July convention. Google will serve as the official livestream provider in Cleveland. And Facebook will support both Republican and Democratic conventions.
But silence from other major corporations on their expected contribution to the GOP convention, just days after Donald Trump sealed the nomination, speaks volumes.
Many of the 2012 Republican convention’s biggest sponsors didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast, including the American Petroleum Institute, Florida Power and Light, and Lockheed Martin, which were responsible for combined millions in contributions last cycle.
Sheldon Adelson contributed $5 million to the 2012 convention, making him the largest individual donor, but a spokesman didn’t respond to a question about this year’s convention. Marketing Solution Publications, run by financier William Edwards, gave the largest corporate donation last cycle at $4 million. But Edwards had nothing to say after The Daily Beast called his office asking if he would re-up this year.
Or, as in the case of Walmart, companies said they had not yet made up their mind about whether they would sponsor the convention, less than three months before the event.
In off-the-record asides, corporation spokespersons insisted to The Daily Beast that the convention is really about supporting the city of Cleveland, or the democratic process, or open political dialogue. The contributions aren’t an endorsement, they said, and in any case the corporations donate the same amount to both parties.
But of course, the GOP convention exists for one primary reason: to nominate a controversial billionaire businessman for the presidency.
“They are sponsoring a party for Trump,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, another group urging corporations not to contribute to the event. “Muslim kids being bullied, Latino kids being yelled at with threats of deportation at sporting events…these corporations are closing their eyes, closing their ears, closing their mouths, and handing over their wallets.”
Corporations could be forgiven for seeking to distance themselves from the Cleveland convention. Even leading Republicans are going skip the event: four of the past five GOP presidential nominees—Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush—are declining to attend.
The calculus is clear: Robinson suggests the image of “Confederate flags waving over corporate brands” might be bad for business.
The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, which aims to raise $64 million for the Republican convention, had a relatively slow month of fundraising—coinciding with a period of intense uncertainty over who the Republican nominee might be, or whether the nominee would even be decided by July.
Over the past month, the committee received $2 million in pledges, up from $54 million in late March. But at that rate, it will fall slightly short of its goal of $64 million before the convention date arrives.
Host committee spokeswoman Emily Lauer said it was “confident” it will meet its goal of $64 million, which is more than any other convention in history has raised. At least 80 percent of the pledged $56 million is already in the bank, she added.
But the committee will be fighting an uphill battle, with two dozen advocacy groups having organized to push corporations not to contribute to the event.
“We recognize that these corporations serve millions and pride themselves for being inclusive and promoting fairness and diversity,” Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, told The Daily Beast. “That is why it is critical for these companies to exercise their responsibility to be good corporate citizens by ensuring that their products and resources are not used to foment hate and divide the American people.”