If there was any doubt where the business community stands on today’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol—as well as President Trump’s months-long attempt to invalidate the results of the presidential election—leaders across a wide swath of American industry answered the question bluntly.
“What we are witnessing in Washington, D.C. today is deeply disturbing for those of us in the U.S. and all over the world,” tweeted Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla as rioting mobs stormed the congressional citadel. “So many people dream of living in a country governed by the rule of law. America must continue to be that place.”
“Now is the time to come together, find ways to understand our differences and solve the problems we face constructively,” said Bourla, who was born and raised in Greece, the cradle of democracy. “Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, we all have a role to play in making this democracy work. We look forward to better days.”
“Today marks a sad and shameful chapter in our nation’s history,” tweeted Apple CEO Tim Cook. “Those responsible for this insurrection should be held to account, and we must complete the transition to President-elect Biden’s administration. It’s especially when they are challenged that our ideals matter most.”
Accenture CEO Julie Sweet called upon her fellow citizens to remain steadfast in the face of the attacks on electoral integrity. “Our elected leaders must stand together to support democracy, accept this free and fair election and bring to justice the perpetrators of today’s violent assault on our country,” she tweeted. “As Americans we must stand in support of our democratic values and the leaders who uphold them.”
In a public statement, Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, strongly condemned today’s violence. “This is not who we are as a people or a country,” he wrote. “We are better than this. Our elected leaders have a responsibility to call for an end to the violence, accept the results, and, as our democracy has for hundreds of years, support the peaceful transition of power.”
Arvind Krishna, CEO of computer giant IBM, voiced his outrage over the Capitol attack early, tweeting: “IBM condemns today’s unprecedented lawlessness and we call for it to end immediately. These actions have no place in our society, and they must stop so our system of democracy can work.”
Intel CEO Bob Swan voiced a similar note: “@intel we condemn all acts of violence and attempts to unlawfully disrupt a democratic process that has long been a model for the world.”
Many CEOs echoed and retweeted the unminced statement of the Business Roundtable, a leading association of chief executives: “The chaos unfolding in the nation’s capital is the result of unlawful efforts to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election. The country deserves better. Business Roundtable calls on the President and all relevant officials to put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.”
To that, Microsoft president Brad Smith tweeted (and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella retweeted): “Well said. This is a day to speak up for our Constitution and its values.”
The Business Roundtable was just one of several industry groups to issue tough statements. It was joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose CEO, Thomas J. Donohue, said “The attacks against our nation’s Capitol Building and our democracy must end now. The Congress of the United States must gather again this evening to conclude their Constitutional responsibility to accept the report of the Electoral College.”
But the most no-holds-barred statement of all was offered by the National Association of Manufacturers, which labeled the rioters “thugs” in its official press release. Said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the powerful lobbying group: “Armed violent protestors who support the baseless claim by outgoing president Trump that he somehow won an election that he overwhelmingly lost have stormed the U.S. Capitol today, attacking police officers and first responders, because Trump refused to accept defeat in a free and fair election. Throughout this whole disgusting episode, Trump has been cheered on by members of his own party, adding fuel to the distrust that has enflamed violent anger. This is not law and order. This is chaos. It is mob rule. It is dangerous. This is sedition and should be treated as such. The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit.”
More politics coverage from Fortune:
- The biggest conspiracy theories of 2020 (and why they won’t die)
- Under Biden, expect more scrutiny of Big Tech and mergers
- Why a key Georgia county flipped from red to blue—and what it means for Democrats
- Pfizer, Trump, and Biden: A twisted triangle that’s complicating COVID-19 relief
- Biden’s first 100 days: Student loan debt won’t go anywhere
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In support of political contributions
Most Americans don’t want CEOs involved in politics. A poll conducted last week by Golin and Ipsos found only 41% favored CEOs weighing in on disputed elections, and only 43% wanted them speaking out on impeachment. On the other hand, 74% say CEOs should call for unity and a peaceful transfer of power, and 57% believe it was appropriate for CEOs to speak out after the January 6 insurgency at the Capitol. That pretty well tracks with the way most CEOs and business groups have behaved since election day. They kept their powder dry until all legitimate avenues for disputing the election were exhausted, then came out strongly endorsing the election results and attacking efforts to undermine them. Relatively few have backed impeachment. (You can see the poll results here.)
But how about political contributions? That’s the question raised last week, as a host of companies—Marriott, AT&T, American Express, Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Dow and Amazon among them—suspended campaign contributions to members of Congress who challenged the election results. Another large group—Microsoft, Boeing, Blackrock, Coca-Cola, JP Morgan, Ford, GM, UPS, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup—temporarily halted all political contributions to members of both parties. (Quartz has a more comprehensive list of what companies did here.)
Some business leaders are even contemplating permanently shutting their political action committees and exiting the money game altogether. But absent a broader overhaul of campaign finance—which is unlikely anytime soon—I think that’s a mistake. Most big companies remain balanced players in the money game, dividing their dollars roughly equally between members of each party. Walmart, for instance, has kept its contributions at exactly 50-50. Their strategies have less to do with trying to influence outcomes, and more to do with assuring they have access to whoever wins.
The more important question for 2021 is how big business uses that access. There are a host of issues where business has the potential to help broker positive outcomes for the U.S. economy and society: economic stimulus, infrastructure, worker training, climate change. On each of these, business leaders occupy the center, and can help bring the parties together to solve urgent problems.
But on tax and regulatory issues, in particular, corporations will be playing defense. And they’ll be tempted to use what influence they can muster to seek tax breaks and regulatory exemptions that aren’t in the broader public interest. That’s where the commitment to stakeholder capitalism will be tested. The nation desperately needs business involved in government. But business, now more than ever, needs to use its influence to focus on solving long-term challenges.
Why Big Tech regulation is good for private equity, according to one CEO
Increased scrutiny of Big Tech’s power may have some shareholders sweating it. But not so for private investors.
With a new Biden administration and recent threats to crack down on some of the biggest tech behemoths (from Facebook to Amazon), there seems to be support for more regulation. And according to alternative investment manager Hamilton Lane’s CEO, Mario Giannini, that might be good news for the private equity industry.
“Reducing the dominance of large technology companies…is probably not great for some portions of the industry, but good for private equity,” Giannini tells Fortune. In Congress, which now maintains a slim Democratic majority, “I think everyone is interested in saying, ‘Amazon is too powerful, Google [is too powerful],’ pick your name,” he says, arguing there’s bipartisan support for more regulation.
As to what lawmakers do about it, “I’m not sure,” says Giannini, but “to the extent that they do anything to diminish the power of those companies, that’s good for private equity because it creates opportunity for smaller companies.”
To be sure, government scrutiny of large tech companies is a tale as old as time, but lately regulators appear to be turning up the heat on the biggest names: Facebook was recently hit with an antitrust lawsuit alleging it has squashed competition, while players like Amazon and Apple, big winners of the pandemic era, have found themselves the subject of government ire over antitrust concerns. Google, meanwhile, is in hot water once more for its search and search advertising practices. And companies like Facebook and Amazon could be facing their own headwinds in Europe, too.
According to Giannini, whose firm has $73 billion in assets under management and advises on $474 billion in additional assets, the dominance of those FAANG names has been top of mind for private equity firms when scouting for deals.
“Right now, when any private equity [firm] does a deal, …if it’s not their first question, it’s one of their top three questions: ‘Is Amazon going to enter this space, yes or no?’ And that has a huge impact—’Is Google in this space?’” he says.
It isn’t just an issue in tech. Companies like Amazon are moving into health care, for instance, by launching online pharmacies. “If all of the sudden the government [would] say, ‘I’m not going to allow Amazon to encroach in certain areas,’ then I think for private equity, oddly enough, that becomes a net positive because you do then have an opportunity with other companies,” says Giannini.
Though some on the Street argue the threat of sweeping legislative changes to hamper Big Tech’s reach is still minor, the new (albeit slim) Democratic majority in Congress poses “a clear negative for Big Tech as…we would expect much more scrutiny and sharper teeth around FAANG names,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a recent note.
For private investors, says Giannini, that just “creates different opportunity sets.”
More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:
- What job security? Americans are feeling worn down and fearful of layoffs
- Coinbase is pegged for a valuation of up to $75 billion. Is that realistic?
- Still waiting on your $300 unemployment benefit to start? What you need to know
- The U.S. now has a debt level that rivals Italy’s
- In corporate America we trust? Despite perennial crisis, business reputations are rising