Opinion: In the wake of the firestorm over donations, does ethical consumption exist?

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If you’re anything like me, you’ve scrolled through Twitter or Facebook in the last few weeks and come across a post claiming that multiple restaurants and their owners have donated a significant amount of money to Trump’s reelection campaign

Naturally, this post sparked a significant amount of outrage, with most people lamenting on how they were going to lose out on food options by not being able to eat at some of their favorite places. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen were among those who decided that they would no longer eat at these restaurants, choosing to support companies that haven’t donated — or, at least, haven’t announced it. 

There was only one major problem with this list; companies like Olive Garden didn’t actually make any donations, as corporations aren’t allowed to donate to political campaigns, according to the Federal Election Commission. In fact, only individual employees, owners or the organization’s political action committees can make these donations. For example, while Olive Garden itself may not make donations to campaigns, their holding company, Darden Restaurants, may use their PACs to make donations — but even along this line, the evidence that most of these holding companies are financially supporting Trump is shaky, at best. 

The original post, made by Twitter user @BillyBobSanderz, alleges they got their information from Open Secrets, a website dedicated to responsive politics. However, their chart for holding companies like Darden demonstrate that most of their political donations are pretty evenly distributed between parties, with slightly above 50% actually going to Democratic candidates. 

While the claim that these companies contribute to Trump financially may be false, there are certainly still questions of partisan politics that exist in this realm. While they might not be able to donate specifically to Trump, Chick-fil-A still has the ability to donate to anti-LGBT groups, which makes it pretty easy for us to guess which candidate they support. 

Lists like these, in which massive boycotts are called for, force us to ask some pretty tough questions to determine whether or not our choice brand of consumption is ethical. We spend a significant amount of time questioning whether or not we’re ethical consumers, if our purchases are helping to contribute to some good cause. The problem, however, is that places the responsibility for social ills created by corporations onto the shoulders of regular people. 

So, in the world of political donations and asking whether or not corporations should be able to financially support candidates, we have to also consider whether or not corporate personhood is a concept we buy into. Last year, a guest author for the Arbiter defended this idea, discussing the implications to freedom of speech, legal responsibility, and of course, financial responsibility

I disagree with this take — granting personhood opens the door for corporations to do things like discriminate against their employees in the name of free speech and, frankly, offer up money to who they like. 

This brings the issue to a head. Companies aren’t specifically allowed to donate to political campaigns to give people like you and me some ability to make choices we want without being drowned out. Not supporting specific companies, however, isn’t going to do much in the long run. In order for that to be true, ethical consumption would have to also be true. 

This discussion over who supports who and how to make political statements against corporations is incredibly convoluted and difficult to condense into one article. If we care about being able to stand up to corporations in our political process, we have to know what power they have, and how we can seize that power for ourselves. 

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