The Cost of Fighting the Count
What election objectors could cost their corporate donors
Any remaining notions that the presidential transition would go smoothly were shattered this weekend when 11 Republican senators announced that they would not certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory during a joint Congressional session on Wednesday. At the same time, President Trump pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to flip the state to him, on a Saturday phone call that was recorded. (That said, the prospect of a constitutional crisis hasn’t rattled markets: U.S. futures are up this morning.)
The group of senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, will call for an emergency audit of election results in “disputed states,” without citing specific evidence of fraud. (There’s also Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who had already promised to dispute the result.) Scores of Republican House members also plan to reject the count, attracting strong condemnation and setting off infighting in the party. And companies whose political arms donated to these lawmakers’ campaigns now face accusations of funding their maneuvers.
How businesses are being linked with this gambit. The senators rejecting the election count include Steve Daines of Montana, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Roger Marshall of Kansas, who ran and won their seats in 2020. Their major campaign contributors included corporate political action committees, which collect and distribute employee contributions, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Here are some examples:
An Exxon Mobil PAC contributed $10,000 to Ms. Lummis. In a statement to DealBook, the company said “we congratulate President-elect Biden on his election.” Ms. Lummis also received money from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce PAC. The trade association congratulated Mr. Biden on Nov. 7. It did not respond to a request for comment.
A Chevron PAC donated $10,000 to Mr. Daines. The company acknowledged in a written statement that it “engages with many people and organizations that take positions” that are “not always aligned with all their views,” and said it looks forward to “engaging with President-elect Biden and his team.”
Mr. Daines and Mr. Marshall received $10,000 each from a Goldman Sachs PAC. The bank has warned that sowing doubt about the orderly transfer of power threatens the economy. It did not respond to a request for comment.
Apollo Global Management’s PAC contributed $10,000 to Mr. Hagerty. The firm did not respond to a request for comment.
The challenge isn’t expected to delay the inauguration on Jan. 20, but it turns a routine process into a political showdown. Those who spoke up against the move did so in stark terms:
“The voters have spoken,” said Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah, in a statement also signed by some Democratic colleagues. “Congress must now fulfill its responsibility to certify the election results.”
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican, circulated a 21-page memo to House colleagues explaining why the move sets an “exceptionally dangerous precedent.”
The former House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said in a statement that the challenges “strike at the foundation of our republic,” adding that “it is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act.”
All 10 living former defense secretaries wrote in a joint op-ed that “the time for questioning the results has passed.”
The rebellion could affect future corporate donations. In a new ad, the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group, accused Mr. Cruz and Mr. Hawley — as well as Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have promoted the president’s election fraud contentions but haven’t committed to the certification challenge — of attempting to suppress millions of votes, and called out “the corporate America titans who are funding them,” naming AT&T, Charles Schwab and Citigroup. If that creates reputational issues, companies may think twice about donations to challengers in 2022 — and beyond.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford goes into use. Britain began inoculations with the shot, which has also received emergency approval in India. Scientists are increasingly immersed in debates about vaccination policy, including whether to delay booster doses to give more first shots faster.
Carl Icahn starts to unwind his Herbalife bet. The billionaire sold more than half of his stake in the health supplements maker, and gave up his seats on its board, years after he defended it against a short-selling bet by Bill Ackman. The Wall Street Journal notes that he likely pocketed more than $1 billion from the investment.
Chinese telecom stocks fall after a U.S. move to delist them. Shares in China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom fell in Hong Kong trading today after the New York Stock Exchange said it would suspend their American listings to comply with a Trump administration order.
A union starts up at Google. More than 225 people at the tech giant announced today that they have created the Alphabet Workers Union, named after Google’s parent company, pushing back against Silicon Valley’s antipathy to organized labor. The union was formed in secret over the past year.
And in case you missed it over the holidays …
Moderna was criticized for reserving some of its Covid-19 vaccine for employees and board members, though it said those inoculations wouldn’t come at the expense of public programs.
Tesla said it had produced more than half a million cars in 2020, capping a big year for the high-flying electric automaker.
The activist investor Dan Loeb called on Intel to consider breaking itself up and formed plans to create a $300 million venture capital fund.
Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund known for buying newspapers and then slashing costs, bid for full control of Tribune Publishing, which owns The Chicago Tribune and The New York Daily News.
G.E. was criticized for giving its chief, Larry Culp, a $47 million bonus after tweaking rules in response to the pandemic to make the payout easier to trigger.
The curious timing of Bitcoin’s boom
Even after a 10 percent fall today — at the time of writing — the price of Bitcoin is up so far this year, adding to a furious rally at the end of 2020 that pushed the cryptocurrency near $30,000 a coin, a level it breached this weekend.
The euphoria stands in contrast to regulatory doubts about cryptocurrencies. Digital money enthusiasts have been submitting comments to the Treasury Department on a proposed new disclosure requirement for certain crypto transactions “aimed at closing money laundering regulatory gaps.” The deadline for comments is today, and more than 3,500 submissions are already in. The Blockchain Association sent Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin a letter requesting more time to consider the rule, arguing that “difficult and momentous” issues were being handled hastily. Eight House lawmakers also wrote to Mr. Mnuchin, asking that the review period be extended by several weeks.
Elsewhere, the S.E.C.’s lawsuit against Ripple, accusing it last month of selling unregistered securities in the form of the XRP crypto token, has spawned private suits against exchanges that listed XRP.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
— President Trump demanding that Georgia’s secretary of state overturn the 2020 election results in a phone call that experts say may have violated laws against election interference.
Where in the world is Jack Ma?
Questions about the Chinese billionaire’s whereabouts have been growing because of canceled public appearances — after a crackdown on his business empire. His last one was more than two months ago, according to The Financial Times.
Mr. Ma was replaced as a judge in the final of “Africa’s Business Heroes,” a reality show he created, and his photo was scrubbed from the judging webpage. A representative for Alibaba, the e-commerce giant he co-founded, cited a scheduling conflict.
This follows an order from Beijing to overhaul Ant Group, the Alibaba financial affiliate whose I.P.O. was halted late last year after Mr. Ma criticized Chinese fintech regulations. Last week, regulators called Ant’s corporate governance “not sound” and accused the company of antitrust abuses.
Once regarded as one of China’s biggest business successes, Mr. Ma has become one of its newest villains, according to The Times’s Li Yuan.
The week ahead
Politics will dominate the news with the Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday, which will determine control of the chamber. On Wednesday, Joe Biden’s presidential election victory will be certified by Congress (despite objections from some Republican lawmakers — see above).
In economics, the most important information comes on Friday, with the December jobs report. Analysts expect the economy to have added 100,000 jobs, less than half the previous month’s gain.
For market watchers, welcome to Q1! Companies on deck to report their latest financials include Constellation Brands and Walgreens on Thursday. And today the shareholders of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot parent PSA vote to approve a merger that would create the world’s fourth-largest automaker, set to be called Stellantis.
THE SPEED READ
Investors are preparing for 2020’s run of record-breaking I.P.O.s to continue, even as some fear the market is hitting bubble territory. (Bloomberg)
MGM Resorts has bid $11 billion for the British gambling company Entain, to bolster its online-gaming operations. Entain rejected the offer. (WSJ)
The latest Wall Street bet: water in the American West. (NYT)
Politics and policy
China’s recent spate of international trade and investment deals looks designed to head off an anti-Beijing push from President-elect Joe Biden. (NYT)
How Janet Yellen, Tony Blinken and other Biden cabinet appointees profited from traditional Washington perks like speaking and consulting fees. (NYT)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was likely to tighten coronavirus restrictions as it grapples with a fast-spreading strain. (NYT)
Roku is reportedly near a deal to buy the content library of Quibi, the failed mobile-focused streaming service. (WSJ)
Speaking of streaming, Discovery is betting on an offering focused on reality shows and documentaries. (NYT)
Best of the rest
One thing that has survived the pandemic: big law-firm bonuses. (FT)
The troubles of the oil and gas industry are prompting younger workers to consider switching to fields like green energy. (NYT)
The veteran broadcaster Larry King, 87, is being treated for Covid-19. (NBC News)
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