6 Republicans who praised companies for virus response after getting donations

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Republicans in Congress are using social media to highlight the work of the very people who help bankroll them.

As pharmaceutical and other companies have focused their efforts on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of politicians have used their positions to shine a spotlight on those companies' work and even shower them with praise. But a review of campaign finance records shows that the shout-outs were often preceded by contributions from company executives or political action committees. 

Rep. Fred Upton

Upton (R-MI), a 17-term congressman, tweeted last week, ".@Pfizer & its SW MI team are stepping up to the plate to help produce a potential life-saving vaccine for COVID-19. The KZoo workforce is doing extraordinary work to help save lives in MI & across the planet. THANK YOU for all that you’re doing."

He appended a video of himself telling the "good folks at Pfizer" that while times are "tough" and "uncertain," the "thing that we're certain about is the fantastic job you all are doing at Pfizer each and everyday" to save "all of us" and the planet.

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His appreciation for Pfizer may go beyond just their research and manufacturing acumen. Last year, Pfizer's corporate political action committee gave him $10,000 toward his 2020 campaign for an 18th term. He also received the same amount from them for each of his 2018, 2016, 2014, and 2012 races — and a grand total of $85,000 dating back to 1998.

Neither Upton's office nor Pfizer responded to inquiries about the donations and social media messaging.

Sen. Susan Collins

Collins (R-ME) has repeatedly touted Abbott Laboratories for its work on rapid coronavirus tests.

"Great work, Abbott!" she tweeted in March. "This is a significant breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19. When I toured your Scarborough facility in 2018, I was so impressed by your dedicated employees who were making the next generation of diagnostics."

Abbott's PAC has contributed $10,000 toward her 2020 reelection campaign and $14,500 toward her previous races. The most recent donation came on March 9, weeks before her tweet.

A Collins spokesperson said that she is "proud of the work that employees at Abbott Laboratories in Maine are doing to combat the current public health crisis," while noting that she is also proud of other Maine employers "who have stepped up during this crisis." He also noted that one of the Democratic candidates seeking to challenge Collins in November has also tweeted about the company.

An Abbott Laboratories spokesperson wrote that the PAC's contributions "are bipartisan, made without regard for the private political preferences of our officers and executives, and based on several criteria."

Sen. Rob Portman

Portman (R-OH) also praised Abbott Laboratories, tweeting in April that its tests are "very promising." "My hats off to the team at Abbott. Excellent work!" he said.

Portman received $1,000 during the last campaign cycle and $3,500 in the one before that from the company's PAC.

Portman's office did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise

Scalise (R-LA) lauded Abbott Laboratories' rapid testing too, tweeting that its arrival in Louisiana would "be a huge asset for doctors and nurses fighting on the front lines in New Orleans." He called it the April 2 "GoodNewsOfTheDay."

Scalise received $5,000 from the company PAC last year for his 2020 reelection race and got $10,000 for his race in 2018.

Rep. Mike McCaul

McCaul (R-TX) highlighted a news story about Tito's Handmade Vodka donating $1 million to Baylor College of Medicine's research efforts earlier this month.

"This is awesome news," he tweeted "Thank you @TitosVodka for donating $1M to @bcmhpuston in an effort to help find a #COVID19 vaccine."

Campaign finance records show the company's founder, Bert "Tito" Beveridge donated $5,600 to McCaul's 2020 campaign in late January and more than $27,000 total to his previous campaigns.

A company spokesperson said in an email that "Tito is personally very involved in his community, which in the past few months has included personal donations to Rep. Mike McCaul and Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Tito has a great affinity for the State of Texas and will continue to support local political leaders who work for the good of the people of Texas and the US, both Republican and Democrat."

A spokesperson for McCaul denied any connection between the donations and the tweet.

"We've been highlighting all companies/individuals who have helped out across the district — big and small," she wrote.

Rep. Kevin Brady

Brady (R-TX) tweeted an April story about VGXI Inc.'s work on a possible COVID-19 vaccine.

".@VGXI is based in The Woodlands, not far from my home. This is exciting news," he said, praising the company for its "innovation."

The company's CEO, Young Park, gave at least $2,700 to Brady's 2018 reelection campaign.

A Brady spokesperson referred questions to the campaign, which did not respond to an inquiry, nor did VGXI.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.