EDITORIAL: Loud and clear: Businesses send message with donations to officials

Mitch McConnell is well into his fourth decade in the U.S. Senate. Surely he knows better.

The Kentucky Republican, who as Senate majority leader was Donald Trump’s point man in that chamber of Congress, apparently let hubris get the better of him this past week. In a news conference responding to Major League Baseball’s decision to move it All-Star Game out of Georgia to protest its new voter suppression laws and other corporations’ statements condemning those laws, McConnell essentially told them to mind their own business.

“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics. It’s not what you’re designed for,” he announced.

Afterward McConnell made an awkward effort to both backtrack and reassert his position, apparent on suggestions that offending major corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, which he called out specifically, might rethink their political contributions to McConnell and other Republicans, the senator said he wasn’t talking about contributions. Shut up and send us your money, was the tacit message.

McConnell has to know that donations themselves are political statements.

That is true from the summit of Capitol Hill to local city halls and school boards.

The injection of resources into the political arena isn’t always made just because corporate leaders like a certain person or party. They are strategic investments in the people whom those corporate leaders believe will be best for business, such as supporting candidates who fight against regulation or higher corporate taxes.

Obviously, these businesses expect something in return for their investment, and they have plenty of muscle if they choose to flex it — a fact McConnell seemed to acknowledge later in the week.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday,” he said Wednesday. “They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics.”

Even locally, political donations usually are strategic. A building contractor can donate to a pro-business city or county commission candidate who is facing an environmentalist who wants to keep as much land pristine as possible. One of the most common statements made through such donations is, “Remember us when you’re bidding out your next major contract.”

Why else would contracting and engineering companies in Houston and other cities be so interested in Rio Grande Valley races?

Trump himself gave the best response, when asked why he donated to both candidates in many campaigns:

“Because it works.”

Companies can’t be expected to send cash and keep quiet, however. Public statements can be acts of self-preservation. Companies such as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, for example, have faced boycotts after funding controversial causes or legislation. Corporate officials will want their customers and potential customers if they don’t agree with actions taken by those they’ve already supported.

And, of course, they can rethink that support of those actions are especially troublesome.

All this is no secret to a political veteran like Mitch McConnell. Money talks, and it buys people the right to use a bullhorn if they wish.