When corporate spokespeople sing the same platitudes as if in a chorus, it’s a dead giveaway. You just know they’re covering for something.
So I had to shake my head at how the business donors who now are fleeing from state Rep. Matt Shea and his crazy-talk of biblical war all sound as if their statements were mixed in the same political porridge factory.
“We strongly condemn the views expressed, as they are in direct contrast to our values of diversity and inclusion,” said BNSF Railway, which gave $2,000 to help Shea, R-Spokane Valley, get reelected last year, and now wants it back.
“Diversity and inclusion are core Boeing values,” echoed Boeing, giver of $2,000 to Shea.
“We have concluded that Rep. Shea’s statements do not reflect our core values of inclusion and equality,” said AT&T, giver of $1,000.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that core values of diversity, equality and inclusion have nothing to do with it.
Shea is under some official scrutiny now for palling around with extremist groups and fantasizing about waging a holy crusade to make everyone obey biblical law.
But what rings so hollow about the belated corporate denunciations is that their lobbyists, for many years, have all known Shea is a far-right extremist with delusions of apocalyptic grandeur. They didn’t care — they gave him money anyway.
These companies donated to Shea in 2018 after he went to Nevada to rally on behalf of insurrectionist rancher Cliven Bundy, after he publicly called the government’s attempts to collect unpaid grazing fees “a war on rural America,” after he showed up to provide aid to more right-wing militiamen who had inexplicably taken over an Oregon wildlife refuge.
These companies supported Shea’s re-election with money long after Shea had pulled a loaded gun on another driver in a fit of road rage, after he had espoused a number of far-right conspiracy theories about Muslims on social media, after he had encouraged rally crowds to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition for the coming economic collapse, after his activities had been denounced as dangerous by no less than the sheriff of Spokane County.
Many of them gave him money after he went to a gun rally last summer and called the media “dirty, godless, hateful people.” (I would just like to add, for the record, that this isn’t even accurate — most reporters I know shower at least a couple times a week.)
“Shea and his love of guns and Revelations talk are not some secret. They’re not new,” noted my counterpart at the Spokesman Review newspaper, columnist Shawn Vestal. He wrote that back in 2014 — five years ago.
So what’s really going on here?
The reason these companies backed Shea’s re-election, despite knowing all of the above, is simple. He was in House leadership and on committees that mattered to them, so they gave him cash.
It’s politics at its most transactional. It makes no difference to the companies if you’re a fringe religious zealot who imagines yourself carrying a sword into a new Christian civil war. If they imagine needing your vote on some matter, they’ll seek to influence it.
It’s revealing that Shea got only 25 percent of his $111,000 in campaign money from actual human beings. The rest came from corporations or political-action committees formed by various trade associations.
So Shea got money from utilities like Avista and Puget Sound Energy, because he’s on the energy committee. He got donations from companies like BNSF and Boeing, because he’s on the transportation committee. More than 40 trade associations — for doctors, realtors, auto dealers, hospitals, developers, CPAs and more — all backed him because, well because he was in the House leadership and was going to win and that’s just how it goes.
Pay along to get along — even with a partner who’s dabbling in holy war on the side.
If Shea survives the current controversy and goes on to get reelected, the business money will probably return, despite all this hand-wringing. The money tends to flow to incumbents with votes, no matter what delusions they’re spewing on their online radio show.
This is a case study in how corporate money can be corrosive in politics. There’s so much of it that it can drown out other voices. And the real core value at work? It’s that there aren’t any.