by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one in rural Steuben County, New York, the home of the glassmaker-turned-tech-company Corning Inc. The company’s leaders have been enmeshed in Republican politics ever since they backed James Garfield for president in 1880. Two different sons of the founding Houghton family have gone to Congress on the GOP ticket after running the company.
But in July, the current CEO, a registered Republican named Wendell Weeks, gathered some 150 friends and employees in a hotel ballroom in the tiny company town of Corning to welcome the firm’s clear favorite for president of the United States: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s relationship with Corning, a major employer in upstate New York, date to when she served as the state’s junior U.S. senator, but they seem only to have strengthened since she left that role almost seven years ago. Over 100 Corning employees have given her campaign a combined $196,700 so far this year, her second-biggest source of contributions by any employer, and ahead of the Wall Street investment banks and Washington lobbying firms that usually give the most in presidential contests. Only three employees gave to other candidates.
Her ability to sustain her ties to Corning points to one of the strengths of her campaign for the presidency: a Rolodex built over decades in public life and painstakingly maintained, offering her a formidable list of allies and more campaign contributions—$77 million—than anyone in either party in the 2016 race. (Jeb Bush is ahead only if independent super-PAC funds are included.) It also points to a potential weakness: she’s been criticized for blurring lines between her official duties, fundraising, and personal finances, such as with the corporations that have bankrolled her family foundation and supported her and her husband’s lucrative speaking business.
Corning has done both, but James Flaws, a company vice chairman and a co-host of the July fundraiser, said the company doesn’t stand to gain more than anyone else if she becomes president. “We’re voting for someone who we think is an effective leader for the country,” he said.