State Farm Latest Company Shying Away From Donating to Garrett

GARRETT

Representative Scott Garrett speaks during an interview in New York on May 10, 2010.

Photographer: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg
  • Insurer discloses it won't give more money to U.S. lawmaker
  • Contributions have dried up after alleged anti-gay comments

Add the nation’s largest property-casualty insurer to the growing list of financial companies that won’t be donating to U.S. Representative Scott Garrett in the wake of his alleged anti-gay remarks.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., which contributed $2,000 to the New Jersey Republican last year, doesn’t plan on giving any more, an e-mail written by one of its outside lobbyists shows. The e-mail, a copy of which Bloomberg News obtained, was sent last week to the staff of the New Jersey senate majority leader who has questioned companies about their contributions to Garrett.

The controversy over Garrett’s comments has reverberated on Wall Street after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last year became one of the first banks to stop contributing to the congressman. The issue has picked up steam in New Jersey as well, where recent protests at some of Garrett’s corporate donors’ offices and bank branches have caused them to reconsider their support.

The revolt is significant because Garrett’s position as chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee that oversees capital markets gives him great sway over the industry. The panel is informally known among lobbyists as the ATM because a seat on it gives lawmakers access to a steady stream of campaign cash.

Lagging Fundraising

The money, however, stopped flowing for Garrett after news reports last July that said he disparaged gay Republican congressional candidates in a closed door meeting.

Garrett’s fundraising has lagged since. Last year, Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer outraised him by 2 to 1. Garrett brought in $706,121 in contributions in 2015 while Gottheimer raised $1.4 million. Still, Garrett had about $1.1 million more in the bank as of the Dec. 31 filing date.

In the past few weeks, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. also said it doesn’t expect to make any more donations to Garrett, and UBS Group AG said it would re-assess its giving after looking into the reports about Garrett’s comments. Both firms had been targeted by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights activists.

State Farm disclosed its decision in a note to a staff member for New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg who has written to the chief executives of a number of companies that gave political action committee donations to Garrett. She asked them to request their money back and take “a stand against hate.”

‘Hit Pieces’

The e-mail sent March 17 by State Farm outside lobbyist Samuel Destito referenced Weinberg’s letter. It said, “my client has no plans to make further contributions to Congressman Garrett.”

Destito, a partner at the Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf law firm, declined to comment.

State Farm spokeswoman Arlene Lester confirmed the company won’t be donating more money to Garrett. Its decisions on political contributions are “based on candidates who support State Farm’s free market approach in relation to the services and products we provide,” she said in an e-mail.

Garrett’s campaign manager Sarah Neibart, in an e-mail, said “it’s troubling when elected officials like Loretta Weinberg serve as cronies for liberal Democrats like Josh Gottheimer and try to intimidate private businesses instead of serving her constituents and respecting everyone’s voice.” 

Neibart added that Garrett “supports every American’s right to run for Congress.”

Lawmaker’s Praise

In an interview, Weinberg praised State Farm’s decision and added that she will continue to press other companies that still are making donations to Garrett.

“These financial houses pride themselves on their diversity, because their customer base, like our state, is very diverse,” Weinberg said. “I am glad to see this repudiation of really bigoted beliefs that are not representative of the people I know in New Jersey.”

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