Business

Trump or Clinton? Donors from Charlotte’s top companies had a clear favorite

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas in October.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas in October. AP

Employees of Charlotte’s biggest companies donated nearly five times more money to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race than Donald Trump, an Observer analysis of recently released federal data shows.

In total last year, employees of those companies contributed $838,434 in support of Clinton, a Democrat, versus $173,471 for her Republican rival, according to data released last month and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

That marks a seismic shift from 2012 when employees for the same companies – which include Charlotte’s seven Fortune 500 firms and its two largest hospital systems – gave twice as much money to Republican Mitt Romney over Democrat Barack Obama.

Political and industry experts say the reversal isn’t surprising, given Trump’s embrace during the campaign of populist messaging that strayed from that of a conventional conservative. Trump railed against major U.S. companies by name for practices like outsourcing jobs overseas, vowing to slap such firms with tariffs and other punishments.

“My guess is that Republican donors in Charlotte are very much establishment-type Republicans. They’re bankers, they’re running big institutions,” said Eric Heberlig, political science professor at UNC Charlotte. “And in 2016 you have clearly a non-establishment Republican candidate – a candidate who’s running against that establishment.”

$838,434 Amount donated to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by employees at Charlotte’s biggest companies in 2016

$173,471 Amount donated to Donald Trump by employees at those same companies.

The vast majority of the employees’ donations – 87 percent – in 2016 came from those who work for Charlotte-based Bank of America and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, whose largest employee base is in Charlotte. While the banks’ employees contributed to both candidates last year, they gave far more to Clinton, unlike in 2012 when Romney attracted more.

At most of the companies, employees steered more overall toward Clinton than Trump, with the exception of manufacturers Domtar and Nucor.

Both candidates made stops in Charlotte and elsewhere in North Carolina, a key swing state that Trump won with 49.8 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 46.2 percent. But here and nationwide, Trump lost the money race to Clinton, whose $769 million was about 88 percent higher than the GOP candidate’s tally.

Heberlig, the UNC Charlotte professor, attributed Trump’s smaller fundraising partly to the fact that he’d never run for office previously and therefore lacked a pre-established donor list.

If traditional Republican donors weren’t being asked to donate to Trump, Heberlig said, they may have instead given to Republicans in other races, such as Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

Trump’s fundraising was also marked by an unprecedented flood of small-dollar donations. His $238.6 million from donors who gave $200 or less shattered the record $218.8 million Obama raised in 2012, according a report last month by The Campaign Finance Institute.

‘Trump represented the unknown’

During the campaign, Trump pledged to make changes that many companies found appealing, such as rolling back regulations.

But candidate Trump also used anti-corporate rhetoric at times and shifted his stance on some issues. Such moves made it difficult for businesses, which don’t like uncertainty, to know what to expect once Trump took office.

“Leading up to the election, Trump represented the unknown and the potential for considerable and rapid change,” said David Doctor, president and CEO of Charlotte-based energy trade group E4 Carolinas.

At Charlotte-based utility Duke Energy, employees contributed about $21,000 to elect Clinton, compared with about $4,990 for Trump. In contrast, Duke employees in 2012 donated about $32,670 toward Romney versus $10,950 for Obama.

“Over the course of his two terms, Obama did little to upset the utility business model,” Doctor said, citing one potential factor for the switch in donations. “I believe those within Duke Energy who supported Clinton expected a continuation of Obama’s approach to energy.”

Duke Energy wouldn’t comment.

Leading up to the election, Trump represented the unknown and the potential for considerable and rapid change.

David Doctor, president and CEO of Charlotte-based energy trade group E4 Carolinas.

Trump’s vows to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, have also created anxiety within the health care sector. Some industry officials have said hospitals could see a drop in revenues if large numbers of people lose insurance in an Obamacare repeal.

Employees for Carolinas HealthCare System gave about $21,800 toward electing Clinton, compared with about $2,460 for Trump. At Novant Health, employee donations for Clinton were about $21,000 versus Trump’s roughly $3,200. Neither system would comment.

Talk by Trump of proposed tariffs on imports has raised concerns for some companies, such as retailers who argue it could lead to higher prices for consumers. Earlier this month, Robert Niblock, CEO of Mooresville-based Lowe’s, voiced worries about such tariffs.

Lowe’s employees last year donated about $15,300 to help elect Clinton, compared with about $2,500 for Trump. In a statement, Lowe’s said its employees “make their own decisions when determining personal contributions to political or charitable causes.”

At Bank of America and Wells Fargo, Charlotte’s two largest banks, employees funneled far more money toward Clinton than Trump. That was also a U-turn from 2012 when more flowed to Romney.

Bank of America employees contributed about $341,500 for Clinton, while Wells Fargo employees gave about $409,800. Bank of America employees gave about $67,500 for Trump, while Wells employees gave about $65,600.

During the campaign, Trump called for getting rid of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, saying it constrained banks’ ability to lend. But Trump also bashed the financial industry, promising he wouldn’t “let Wall Street get away with murder.”

Clinton praised Dodd-Frank and said she’d veto any legislation to “weaken financial reform.” But Clinton was also accused during the campaign of having close ties to Wall Street because of highly paid speeches she had given to financial firms.

Wells and Bank of America would not comment.

At Charlotte-based Sealed Air, maker of Bubble Wrap, employees gave about $2,000 for Clinton and $1,900 for Trump. In a statement, the company said it encourages its employees to vote but does not endorse a specific candidate.

Nucor, Domtar employees back Trump

Employees for Nucor and Domtar, who donated more for Romney than Obama, repeated that pattern as they contributed more toward Trump than Clinton.

At Domtar, a Fort Mill, S.C.-based pulp and paper company, donations for Trump totaled $250, compared with only $50 for Clinton. Domtar would not comment.

Donations to Trump from Nucor employees swelled in last year’s third quarter, after the Charlotte steelmaker’s former CEO Dan DiMicco announced in late June his role as senior trade adviser to Trump.

Nucor employees gave about $24,703 for Trump, compared with about $1,950 for Clinton. Nucor did not respond to a request for comment.

Concerns about visas

Mark Vitner, Charlotte-based senior economist for Wells Fargo, said one factor behind Trump’s lower fundraising is would-be donors who avoided giving to the GOP candidate out of concern their contributions would become public.

Vitner likened it to those Trump supporters who voted for him but were reluctant to say so publicly.

Overall, Vitner said he still expects Trump’s presidency will be good for the economy in Charlotte and the rest of the U.S., in part from fewer regulations, increasing infrastructure spending and tax cuts. In early January, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan noted there was “palpable” optimism at the bank ahead of Trump’s inauguration later in the month.

But one area of concern, Vitner said, is the H-1B visa program, designed to allow businesses to place foreigners in U.S. jobs for which Americans lack required skills.

On the campaign trail, Trump assailed what he called abuse of the program. A draft of a Trump administration executive order released in January calls for a review of how such visas are allocated. More recently, the administration this month announced it will temporarily suspend expedited processing of the visas for possibly 6 months beginning April 3.

In Charlotte, where businesses have filed federal applications for thousands of the visas annually, some of the biggest users are technology outsourcing companies, whose clients include Charlotte’s banks.

“I’m worried that the political pressures may lead to changes...that may make it tougher for business to hire the workers that they need to hire,” Vitner said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center in Concord on Thursday.

Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton spoke to a crowd of supporters in Charlotte.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

Following the money

Employees for Charlotte’s biggest employers gave a combined $1.01 million in donations in 2016 toward electing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, down from the $2.1 million employees gave for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 race, according to an Observer analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data. Contributions from employees can include those to their companies’ political action committees, as well as directly to candidates’ campaign committees and outside groups such as super PACs. The Charlotte companies themselves did not donate any money to elect Clinton or Trump.

Clinton

Trump

Bank of America

$341,517

$67,523

Carolinas HealthCare System

$21,813

$2,466

Domtar

$50

$250

Duke Energy

$21,049

$4,997

Lowe’s Cos.

$15,321

$2,519

Novant Health

$21,068

$3,223

Nucor Corp.

$1,952

$24,703

Sealed Air Corp.

$2,038

$1,900

Sonic Automotive

$3,780

$280

Wells Fargo

$409,846

$65,610

Total

$838,434

$173,471

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