Non-profits' Tepid Donation Responses

"American" organizations aren't jumping into the fray or making precise choices

Non-profits' Tepid Donation Responses

Last week, I listed organizations in our sphere that had donated to politicians who refused to certify the election results on January 6th, a day that will be remembered for an insurrection shaped by lies about the election results.

(I mistakenly included Wolters Kluwer, and have now corrected the list to reflect this error. I’m sorry about that.)

I was particularly interested in the non-profits and their donations to such problematic politicians, since, in marketing terms, each of them is leveraging the damaged brand — “America” — to introduce itself.

Would such organizations be more forceful in their responses because of the name association? Would they jump in to protect the reputation of the lead identifier in their own brands?

Late last week, I contacted nine of the societies and associations that donated to some of the 147 representatives who refused to certify the election results:

  • American Academy of Dermatology Association — $125,500 to 8 of the 147.
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology — $128,500 to 9 of the 147.
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons — $197,650 to 17 of the 147.
  • American College of Radiology — $145,500 to 10 of the 147.
  • American Dental Association — $188,000 to 11 of the 147.
  • American Optometric Association — $100,000 to 9 of the 147.
  • American Society for Anesthesiologists — $271,500 to 20 of the 147.
  • American College of Cardiology — $35,000 to 3 of the 147.
  • American College of Emergency Physicians — $57,000 to 5 of the 147.

Of these, five responded:

  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  2. American Society of Anesthesiologists
  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology
  4. American College of Cardiology
  5. American College of Emergency Physicians

Follow-up requests were sent to the others. Those that responded deserve more credit than those that shrugged this off.

Could You Shrug Anything Other Than Your Shoulders? – To Contrive & Jive

The statements tended to be fulsome and carefully crafted, emphasizing the bipartisan nature of the organization’s overall political donations and how legislative priorities guided their donations. The more salient portions of the longer statements are presented below.

The organizations reconsidering or halting political donations are taking a blanket approach, withdrawing support across the board, even to lawmakers who supported the peaceful transfer of power and democratic norms. Some are just convening meetings, or are delaying decisions until the next election cycle, avoiding sending a signal now. Others, as noted, did not respond, so their status is unclear.

In other industries, companies withdrawing support have worked fast, communicated publicly, and pulled money from specific lawmakers with a history of lying about the election and fomenting insurrection.

Yesterday, it was reported by Judd Legum in his “Popular Information” newsletter that some companies have been even more specific, targeting state lawmakers in Pennsylvania who sought to overturn the election results. And on the heels of this weekend’s events, Wayfair, Kohl’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond reportedly severed ties with My Pillow after its CEO was spotted leaving the White House carrying documents urging the President to invoke martial law and the Insurrection Act.

Each of the non-profits here depends to some large extent one one word to set them apart — “American.” International trainees, membership initiatives, meeting attendees, journal subscriptions, and article submissions all benefit from this alignment with Brand America.

Events this month have damaged that brand. As Scott Galloway — who teaches branding at NYU — said this week on the “Pivot” podcast, the damage to the American brand will be hard to repair:

We’ve always been a force of good, and a wonderful enforcer. . . . Had it not been for this mob and the total desecration of our moral authority, I don’t think Alexey Navalny would have been arrested at the airport in Moscow. . . . We’re no longer the force of good, and have lost [our] moral authority.

Galloway is not alone. A former diplomat wrote in Fast Company in November about the Trump Administration before the insurrection:

For the past four years, our national brand became synonymous with denigration and division. The inspirational ideals and international influence we once enjoyed were dramatically diminished, our star dimmed during his time in office. American businesses have struggled mightily to put distance between country and company.

Some of the responses below read as if the organization is being cagey, but why? To avoid taking a stand?

To paraphrase the political theorist Hannah Arendt, the goal of authoritarians isn’t to make you believe in something, but to make it impossible for you to believe in anything. A mushy response may play into that.

Most of the statements condemn the violence that occurred, but the issue of lies and misinformation isn’t mentioned. The absence of that struck me, as well.

After numerous searches both online and within the organization’s social media accounts, I could find no public statements from these non-profits. Rather, these organizations appear to have limited communications on these issues to their memberships until now. That’s not exactly taking a stand for democracy or the brand they wield, one could reasonably argue.

Edited for space, the responses follow.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Status: Suspending All Contributions
The nonpartisan Political Action Committee of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (OrthoPAC) has suspended all political contributions to allow it time to evaluate its strategy going forward. We have communicated this information to AAOS members.

AAOS is hoping to meet this week to clarify its response. I will update this if I hear more.

American Society of Anaesthesiologists

Status: Pausing All Contributions
While we are deeply saddened by what occurred, we are very grateful that our long-standing democratic processes prevailed. . . .

ASA believes that ASAPAC has effectively sought both political balance and the attainment of its goals to advance the practice and secure the future of anesthesiology. However, given last week’s events, ASAPAC joins other organizations in temporarily pausing all political contributions to review and ensure its disbursement strategies continue to support our shared goals of protecting the patients we serve and improving our specialty.

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Status: Unclear
The American Academy of Ophthalmology condemns the violence that occurred in Washington, D.C., and fully supports a peaceful transfer of power supported by validated election data and principles of our constitution. Our political action committee, OPHTHPAC, continuously evaluates its political contributions to ensure it is giving to members/candidates who support policies critical to Academy members and their patients and our fundamental principles. OPHTHPAC is assessing its decision-making criteria and will carefully evaluate any future political contributions in light of recent events.

American College of Cardiology

Status: Reviewing
We are saddened and distressed by the egregious events that transpired last week at the Capitol during the vote to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and we strongly condemn the violence that has undermined one of our most sacred principles, the peaceful transfer of power. In light of the recent events, HeartPAC leaders are meeting next [this] week to discuss the implications of those events and reassess the College’s approach moving forward.

ACC HeartPAC has always operated in a nonpartisan manner, working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to advance quality cardiovascular care for our patients. Our mission, which is inextricably linked and central to the mission of the ACC, is not political; our nonpartisan approach is essential to what we do.

Update, January 22, 2021 — The ACC has issued a public statement, which can be accessed here.

American College of Emergency Physicians

Status: Punting to 2022
Like many Americans, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and its political action committee, the National Emergency Medicine Political Action Committee (NEMPAC), were shocked to see our nation’s center of elected government directly impacted by danger and violence earlier this month.

NEMPAC and ACEP take seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of ACEP members’ contributions and respect the integrity of their intent to provide emergency medicine with a strong voice in the democratic process. We are hearing from many of our members about the issue and will be thoughtful about any donation decisions going forward as we review NEMPAC’s current giving criteria for the new 2022 election cycle.

American Academy of Dermatology

Status: No Response

American College of Radiology

Status: No Response

American Dental Association

Status: No Response

American Optometric Association

Status: No Response

What happens next will depend to some extent on whether people keep paying attention to these issues. As with the Facebook ad boycott last year, “The Geyser” will continue monitoring the PAC activity of these and other organizations until we can feel reasonably sure some politicians aren’t going to try to overthrow their own government.

Go beyond press releases (and press releases in disguise). Support independent journalism and analysis. Subscribe to “The Geyser” for exclusive reporting, interviews, and insights. 

One of Substack's Top 20 Technology Newsletters, "The Geyser" has carved out a unique niche and attracted a worldwide audience of thought-leaders in organizations large and small.

Subscribe today!

Subscribe now

Give a gift subscription