Toyota scrutinized after restarting donations to ‘sedition caucus’

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Every month, new companies get dinged for sending money to the 147 members of Congress who tried to overturn the 2020 election, but none gets quite as much heat for its donations as Toyota (TM).

The automaker has had a particularly tumultuous relationship with political donations since the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6, and it's now under renewed political pressure after Judd Legum reported in his newsletter Monday that Toyota had resumed donations to certain 2020 election objectors.

The Lincoln Project — a group of anti-Trump Republicans — reacted by immediately promising to restart an advertising campaign against the company.

Toyota and other companies “just don't think people are paying attention,” Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen told Yahoo Finance. "The point would be: we are paying attention, we are watching, and we will continue to call out those companies who put their personal corporate interests above those of the United States.”

The group plans to air its ads in New York and in Northern Texas (Toyota’s U.S. headquarters are in Plano). They are also launching an online campaign to target potential Toyota customers when they walk into one of Toyota top dealerships around the U.S.

‘Toyota had extensive discussions with internal and external stakeholders’

Donations to these 147 lawmakers, dubbed the "Sedition Caucus" by political opponents, have been the focus of watchdogs since Jan. 6. Toyota became notorious for continuing to give to those lawmakers even while hundreds of other companies promised to stop.

In the months that followed, political pressure on Toyota grew, and it publicly reversed course in July 2021. “We understand that the PAC decision to support select Members of Congress who contested the results troubled some stakeholders,” the company said at the time.

Now Toyota is back at it with donations that, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission, total $5,000 in March. The money was spread evenly — $1,000 each — between Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA), Trent Kelly (R-MS), David Kustoff (R-TN), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN). All five lawmakers voted against certifying the 2020 election even after rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden's election as president.

The donations were among nearly 90 contributions made by Toyota's PAC last month to both Democrats and Republicans.

TOPSHOT - Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (ROBERTO SCHMIDT via Getty Images)

In a statement provided to Yahoo Finance, Toyota said its political action committee had resumed contributions “after a pause of six months” and would “continue its long history of giving equally to Democrats and Republicans based on the best interests of our company, workforce, and the U.S. automotive industry.”

The company also said it “will not support those who, by their words and actions, create an atmosphere that incites violence.” It was a seeming nod to its previous support of lawmakers like Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), an outspoken advocate for overturning the 2020 election who was reportedly involved in planning meetings.

Toyota has not resumed contributions to Biggs this year. Based on the FEC data, it last sent money his way on Feb. 17, 2021.

A Toyota dealership is seen in Los Angeles October 10, 2012. Toyota Motor Corp said it would recall more than 7.4 million vehicles worldwide for faulty power window switches that are a potential fire hazard, the latest in a series of setbacks that have dented the reputation of Japan's biggest automaker.REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS)
A Toyota dealership in Los Angeles (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson) (Lucy Nicholson / reuters)

‘If they're smart, they'll recant and apologize again’

Toyota is not alone in resuming its donations to lawmakers who tried to overturn the election.

"Toyota joins a growing list of corporations that claimed to be committed to our democracy in the insurrection’s wake but have since shown they were never serious,” Kyle Herrig, the president of advocacy group Accountable.US, told Yahoo Finance.

Recently, Motorola (MSI) began giving again to the "sedition caucus." Then Capital One (COF), Cox Enterprises, and Exelon (EXC) resumed donations. In recent months, Home Depot (HD) became the biggest corporate donor to 2020 election objectors among the Fortune 500. Home Depot gave $140,000 to Republican election objectors in February alone, dwarfing Toyota’s restarted giving so far.

Legum highlighted three more companies in his report — Intel (INTC), Citi (C), and General Electric (GE) — that resumed donations just last month like Toyota.

But nevertheless, Toyota has been subjected to more criticism for its donations than other companies. The Lincoln Project mounted a similar pressure campaign in the summer of 2021 against the automaker. The group takes credit for Toyota's change of course then and hopes for the same result this time.

“If they're smart, they'll recant and apologize again,” Galen says. “Can they not read a room?”

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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