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Red Chains, Blue Chains

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Politicians don’t just work for the American people. Corporations spend millions of dollars on political action committees, lobbyists, and campaigns each election cycle to ensure legislators will pass laws that are in their favor and derail ones that aren’t. That means when Americans vote this November, many will be voting for candidates who have taken thousands of dollars from the restaurant and bar sector over the past year. Campaign finance data reveals the political leanings of America’s top fast-food corporations and their employees.

Federal law prohibits corporations and labor unions from donating directly to political candidates, so large companies typically don’t openly support individuals who are running for office. Their CEOs and employees can independently donate to candidates, however — or to company-sponsored political action committees (PACs). Corporate PACs pool money from employees and donate it to candidates (up to $5,000 per candidate, per election) or political parties (up to $10,000), or spend them on political ads. Companies can also hire lobbyists to advocate for their business to members of Congress. All these methods give them indirect ways to contribute to politicians’ campaigns and fundraising.

Perhaps surprisingly, restaurant giants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s aren’t directing their money toward presidential campaigns. Eater’s analysis of political donations associated with the top fast-food companies in America showed no major fast-food CEO or PAC has donated directly to either Joe Biden or Donald Trump in 2020. Instead, they’re pushing their money toward political organizations, congresspeople, and other PACs; these groups, in turn, push for specific political candidates, policies, and causes that benefit large corporations.

Republican candidates and conservative causes often receive the bulk of fast-food PAC dollars, compared to Democrats, Eater’s analysis shows. This is unsurprising. Republicans have historically supported tax benefits for large corporations, as well as lighter government regulation on big business. Meanwhile, in a country where fast-food workers are fighting for higher minimum wage laws and union protections, Democrats often see more support from low-wage workers due to the party’s views on labor unions, minimum wage, and health care. 

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has received more money from major fast-food PACs than most other politicians ($21,000 in 2020), is indicative of this trend. Viewed as a moderate Republican who is sometimes a swing vote on issues like health care mandates and tax cuts, Collins has a record of arguing against raising the minimum wage. She is also a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which helps pass policies on employment standards, wages, and foreign labor. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, who also serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry — which has jurisdiction over agricultural production and nutrition policies — has received $10,000 during the 2020 cycle from PACs serving the leading fast-food companies. Top Democrat recipients of fast-food PAC donations, like Florida representative Stephanie Murphy, are also viewed as more moderate. Murphy has received $17,500 from the nation’s leading fast-food company PACs, according to Eater’s analysis.

To get a clearer picture of how fast-food companies and their employees support political candidates, Eater looked at Federal Election Commission data and data from OpenSecrets, which tracks campaign donation spending. Eater focused on the top 10 major fast-food companies, based on U.S. sales and number of locations:

  • McDonald’s
  • Starbucks
  • Subway
  • Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell)
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Wendy’s
  • Restaurant Brands International (Burger King, Popeyes, Tim Hortons)
  • Dunkin’ Brands (Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins)
  • Domino’s
  • JAB Holding Company (Panera, Pret a Manger, Krispy Kreme, et. al.)
  • Chipotle

The CEOs

No acting CEO of a major fast-food company has given to the Donald Trump or Joe Biden campaign this election cycle. This makes sense: It’s not uncommon for consumers to turn on CEOs who openly support political causes, especially controversial ones. When Goya CEO Robert Unanue praised Donald Trump as being an “incredible builder” during a roundtable event for Hispanic leaders for the announcement of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, for instance, many consumers boycotted the brand. Several American CEOs who joined President Donald Trump’s manufacturing advisory councils early in his first term, including Campbell’s Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison, ultimately stepped down from the council following pressure from consumers. More recently, multiple fast-food chains were forced to publicly declare that they weren’t supporting the Trump campaign after viral rumors of their support sparked outrage. 

Republican-Leaning

Democrat-Leaning

The PACs

Company-sponsored PACs act on behalf of company employees by collecting donations and distributing them to causes or candidates; of the top 10 fast-food companies, four have PACs (McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Wendy’s, and Dunkin’ Brands). Eater’s analysis found that all of them have given more to Republicans than Democrats. 

Republican-Leaning

Democrat-Leaning

Only five of the 10 CEOs on Eater’s list openly donated to political causes — mostly via their company PACs. Just one CEO, Chris Kempczinski of McDonald’s, donated exclusively to Democrats, giving $2,500 to Joe Kennedy’s Massachusetts campaign for U.S. Senate. Most of the other donations went to Republican candidates and PACs. 

For this analysis, Eater multiplied CEOs’ donations to company PACs by the percent of total contributions the PAC has given to Republicans and to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets. Todd Penegor, the CEO of Wendy’s, for instance, donated $5,760 to the Wendy’s company PAC. Seventy-nine percent of Wendy’s PAC’s total contributions has gone to Republican causes, and 21 percent has gone to Democrat causes; Eater used these figures to determine how much of Penegor’s contribution to the PAC ultimately supported Republicans and Democrats. 

The Employees

While they may not be donating on behalf of their employers, many fast-food workers make individual contributions to political candidates and parties, and federal law requires recipients to make efforts to collect donors’ occupation and employers. Here is where support for presidential candidates is more visible. Employees at top fast-food companies gave more than $297,000 to Republican incumbent Donald Trump, compared to $139,000 given to Democrat rival Joe Biden. 

Employees’ political leanings aren’t always isolated. The political opinions of a CEO can trickle down through the company’s core values and mission, affecting the political leanings of employees drawn to the company. A company like Chick-fil-A, known for the conservative views of the family that owns it (despite its recent attempts to shed that reputation as it moves into urban centers with more liberal populations than its home in the Deep South), for instance, may attract a disproportionate amount of right-leaning workers (or repel a liberal-leaning workforce), compared to companies with a more liberal ethos, like Starbucks. So it may not come as a surprise that more than 60 percent of Chick-fil-A employee donations went to Republicans, while more than 90 percent of donations from Starbucks employees went to Democrats.

Republican-Leaning

Democrat-Leaning

Federal Election Commission data shows that employee donors still give more to Republicans than Democrats despite donors representing all areas of the industry, including delivery drivers, managers, and executives. It’s possible that employees in higher-paying positions donate more, possibly tipping the scales, though commission data doesn’t clearly indicate the party of the donation recipient and OpenSecrets doesn’t show the staff position of donors to confirm this assumption. 

With the 2020 presidential election only a couple weeks away, if campaign donation data reveals anything, it’s that the stakes are high not only for ordinary citizens, but for America’s fast-food institutions, whose leaders will be watching closely to see if the millions of dollars invested in lobbying and corporate PACs will pay off. Meanwhile, as Americans prepare to vote, they may be supporting a candidate who has received thousands of dollars from corporations — likely made possible by their own cravings for pizza, hamburgers, and coffee.

Vince Dixon is Eater’s senior data visualization reporter.
Matt Lubchansky is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Queens, New York.

Eater is part of Vox Media. Find more coverage of the 2020 election across its other 13 networks: how to vote, in-depth analysis, and how policies will affect you, your state and the country over the next four years and beyond.

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Food

The Eater Guide on How to Help During the Crisis

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Not all that long ago it seemed like if the pandemic weren’t exactly over by now, then at least the worst of it would be. But the summer didn’t make things any simpler. Cases continued to spread, and fires and hurricanes ravaged the West and Gulf Coast. As the weather turned colder, more states began allowing indoor activities and face-to-face school. As a result, the virus appears to be surging once more. It is increasingly clear that not only will thousands more Americans likely die as a direct result of COVID-19 by the end of 2020, but the mass misery of the economic devastation it has unleashed — suffering disproportionately endured by Black and Latinx communities — will not lift anytime soon. 

Benefits like the federal $600 a week unemployment expansion ran out or contracted for more than 25 million Americans in July and the federal government has failed to agree on the terms of a new aid package. Organizations that provide food and housing assistance to low-income people across the country, already strained by the last several months of the pandemic and the government’s appallingly incompetent — and at times malevolent — response, are scrambling to meet a tidal wave of need. As roughly 40 percent of restaurants on the brink of closing forever, programs that aid people in the food industry are also seeking further support so they can continue to provide assistance to worker who remain unemployed or underemployed. Groups representing Indigenous communities, undocumented immigrants, farmworkers, and people of color are also mobilizing to get assistance to marginalized people and lay a foundation for a more resilient food system — because while it’s an extraordinary time of need, it’s also not new. 

Hunger and poverty have always been the U.S.’s most shameful open secrets. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, as of 2018 more than 13 percent of people in the U.S. lived below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau, while a full 78 percent of U.S. workers lived paycheck to paycheck. The pandemic and its economic fallout have put those statistics into ever starker relief, as the nation’s working class and its poorest residents have faced the largest health burden from the virus. Several studies have estimated that pandemic-related job losses and increased food costs have roughly doubled food insecurity in the U.S., and No Kid Hungry estimates that one quarter of children around the country could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. 

In this guide, Eater has identified a range of programs, organizations, and charities fighting hunger, developing sustainable food networks, and providing support to the roughly 31 million people who are unemployed or are working less than they’d like to be due to this global medical disaster. These are places that are stepping in to do work in their communities where governments and elected officials have left people behind. Collected here are opportunities for giving and volunteering in and around the United States and its territories, at both the national and the local level, as well as in the U.K. Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.

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Trump Teases an ‘EPIC’ Election Night Party at His D.C. Hotel Despite Capacity Limits

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Despite D.C.’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, President Donald Trump’s campaign has teased plans to host a party for election night on Tuesday, November 3, at the Trump International Hotel downtown. Fundraising emails from Donald Trump Jr. include details on a “sweepstakes” to fly a supporter to D.C. for a party described in all-caps as “EPIC,” “ELECTRIC,” and “INCREDIBLE.”

Under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening restrictions, mass gatherings are capped at a maximum capacity of 50 people. Restaurants are still limited to half-capacity seating with no standing and no countertop service from bartenders. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wasn’t aware of plans for the party until Monday, October 26, Washingtonian reports.

The location of the election night party is unclear, but the opulent hotel has multiple ballrooms and event spaces. The hotel includes a location of celebrity chef David Burke’s BLT Prime steakhouse. Lobby-level bar Benjamin serves $23 glasses of sangria and $120 seafood towers. Nearby, more affordable pub Harry’s has already seen pro-Trump crowds openly flouting mask requirements and other protocols meant to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. After he survived a case, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

On election night four years ago, the recently opened hotel was the site of an impromptu and raucous gathering for supporters watching the numbers roll in on large TVs framing its gold bar. The controversial Pennsylvania Avenue hotel near the White House has been sold out for weeks on and around Election Day at rates going for $1,200 a night, the Associated Press reports.

The fine print in the sweepstakes notes the campaign can move the date of the trip and the location of the hotel stay at its discretion. The prize also includes a photo op with Trump. The supposedly randomly chosen winner, who is subject to a background check, will be responsible for all ground transportation, meals, and all other expenses during the duration of the trip.

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Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

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Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.

A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.


Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director

Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager

Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit

Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent

Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer

Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor

Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com

Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit

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