Big money, big eats: fast food chains fund politics

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Big money, big eats: fast food chains fund politics

Noah Kayaian and Phoebe Porter

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When thinking about who funds the political campaigns of politicians like Donald Trump and Dick Durbin, places like Chick-Fil-A or Chipotle may not be the first to be considered. Political candidates, however, have been receiving funds from big chains for decades, and in a more technology driven age, many of these donations get publicized. 

In August, the conversation surrounding Political Action Committees (PACs) was renewed when a tweet by California college student @BillyBobSanderz went viral. 11 fast food chains were called out for donating money to PACs, according to Open Secrets, a source for political statistics. As defined by Federal Election Commision, a PAC is a committee who donates money towards candidates seeking election. Only .47 percent of the American population donates sums larger than $200 towards political campaigns, so a good portion of political campaign  funds come from PACs. 

“Most [PACs] are sponsored by corporations other business […] and professional groups. The money comes not from the sponsoring organization, but from its employees or members. That’s how they get around the 100-year-old ban on corporate and union contributions to federal candidates,” according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Additionally, if a chain is determined on funding one candidate, a PAC allows companies to give more money than individual donors, the limit is usually capped at $5000. Recently, companies like Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Olive Garden, Waffle House and Carl’s Jr. donated through PACs that directly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign for reelection according to the previously mentioned Twitter user.

McDonald’s donated $586,064 to PACs in 2018 according to Open Secrets, and .57 percent of this money went towards Republican PAC according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

According to ThinkProgress, Chick-Fil-A, most notably, donates money directly to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, both with a history of LGBTQ+ discrimination. In 2019 alone, Chick-Fil-A donated $1.8 million to three separate organizations who shared this belief, according to QSR

 “Chick-Fil-A is the one [restaurant] I know about, but that’s about it. [The donations] don’t really affect whether or not my friends eat there,” says senior Zoe Canafax.

It has also come out that Chick-Fil-A indirectly funds the National Christian Foundation, a group who help push for the death penalty towards LGBTQ+ identifying people in Uganda. Though, for chains like Chick-Fil-A, their donation history is easily available to anyone who wants to know.

“Big corporations have lots of money. As a result they can provide lots of money or have an unlimited voice in decisions,” says ETHS business law teacher Dave Feeley.

One way to see what the corporations are doing is by making the analogy to an everyday consumer. That consumer makes and earns the money; therefore, they are able to spend it how they want to and choose to spend on whatever they want. The same applies for restaurants

 “It’s their money, I think [the restaurants] should be able to do whatever they want. They earned it,” junior Ethan Cress states.

Todd A. Penegor, the CEO of Wendy’s, has recently been called out for his refusal to join Wendy’s into the Fair Food Program, an organization ensuring better working conditions and wages for the farmers who provide the produce used in meals. The CEO also has a history of donating through PACs that funded Donald Trump’s campaigns, as well as personally donating over $85,000 of his own money. Trump is also trying to suppress the program, according to Truth Out, further showing how PAC donations to restaurants can impact the politics that they support.

“Definitely some people have chosen not to go there anymore, but I wouldn’t say that [a few people’s] actions make a huge impact,” Canafax said. 

There are still plenty of chains that donate to more Democratic causes, or stay away from politically aligned donations completely. Panera, Chipotle, Starbucks, Popeyes, Sonic and Shake Shack included, according to Cheatsheet.com, so if voters do choose to boycott Republican-leaning restaurants, their food options won’t disappear.

  “People shouldn’t be judged based off their opinions or whatever. I don’t see why companies should be judged that way,” says Cress.