#BoycottOliveGarden has been trending on Twitter after a viral tweet falsely claimed that “Olive Graden is funding Trump’s re-election in 2020.” There is no evidence that the company has given money to President Donald Trump‘s 2020 campaign and there is also no record of contributions to the campaign or any Trump PACs in 2016.
The restaurant chain is owned by Darden Restaurants and the group has also not given money to Trump, Federal Election Commission records show. Some individual Darden Restaurant employees did give contributions to Trump in 2016, but only in small amounts. None of Darden’s executives have made contributions to Trump’s 2020 campaign.
“We don’t know where this information came from, but it is incorrect. Our company does not donate to presidential candidates,” Olive Garden said on Twitter.
Darden Restaurants also owns LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie’s 52. The company is based in Orlando, Florida.
Calls for boycotts of companies supporting Trump’s re-election have increased after Stephen Ross, the chairman of the parent company for lifestyle brands Equinox and SoulCycle, was revealed to be hosting a major fundraiser for Trump in New York. A boycott movement of those brands quickly spread on social media and the companies attempted to distance themselves from Ross, a Florida real estate developer who also owns the Miami Dolphins.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Now-Deleted Viral Tweet Had Nearly 40,000 Retweets
A now-deleted tweet by a California professor appears to have started the #BoycottOliveGarden trend. Dennese Lilley wrote, “Olive Garden is funding Trump’s re-election. It would be terrible if you shared this and Olive Garden lost business.” Lilley is an English and speech professor at Palo Verde College.
The tweet quickly took off, with many saying they would not be eating at the casual Italian restaurant chain any longer. But others were also quick to debunk Lilley’s tweet, pushing back on her claim and showing that there was no evidence to support it. Parker Molloy, an editor for the left-wing group Media Matters for America, tweeted, “Why have 37k+ people retweeted a bizarre, unsourced, false claim from a random account? Knock it off. Seriously. Everyone retweeting that or posting a hashtag about it is just embarrassing themselves.”
Molloy added, “This is one of the major downsides to the freewheeling world of social media “reporting.” The information you’re getting might be smart and insightful… or it might be totally made up. Or, and this is perhaps the worst, it could be based on a complete misreading of actual info. This happens a lot when it comes to elections. Someone looks at an OpenSecrets page for a company, sees that employees at that company have donated to a certain candidate, and decide that’s proof that the company supports said candidate.
Many Trump supporters used the #BoycottOliveGarden hashtag to express their support for the restaurant and to mock liberals. Lilley, the professor who started the controversy with her tweet, wrote, “Apparently. a company that donates to conservative PACs is pissed off about a boycott and sent its MAGAs after me on twitter. You know, because I used their god’s name in vain. I will be busy blocking.”
“I deleted the post. But others have run with it and I am being targeted by hateful and disgusting tweets from the MAGAs. Even people I have followed from day one are attacking my post – I mistated one thing: they donate to the PACS not directly to trump,” she wrote. But it is also not true that they donated to PACs that support Trump. Lilley could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
An earlier viral tweet, from California college student @BillyBobSanderz, that has also been debunked listing several restaurant chains, including Olive Garden, as being supporters of Trump’s campaign, has more than 240,000 retweets, and is still up.
A PAC Associated With Darden Employees Has Given to Both Republicans & Democrats, but Its Board Slashed Political Funding in 2015
While Darden Restaurants does not directly donate to candidates, a PAC, “Darden Restaurants Inc. Employees Good Government Fund,” has made contributions to several politicians in the past. FEC records show that the PAC has not made any contributions since 2015. The PAC was shut down that year and no longer accepts contributions, the company said.
The Darden Restaurants Inc. Employees Good Government fund has contributed to both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the committees for both Democratic and Republican congressional and senatorial campaign committees, according to FEC records. Recipients of contributions include both prominent Democrats and leading Republicans.
In 2015, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Darden’s new leadership team would be slashing its political efforts. The company shut down its lobbying office in D.C., and appears to have stopped making contributions to politicians through the PAC. The company also laid off its senior vice president of government and community affairs.
“The company is cutting spending despite the ramp-up to next year’s presidential and congressional elections and industry-important issues such as an increase in the minimum wage,” the Sentinel wrote. “Darden still employs four contract lobbyists in Washington. Much of the work revolves around advocating in the Senate and House on tax-related issues such as tip credits and automatic gratuities, records show.”
Darden Restaurants Employees Gave $8,407 in Contributions to Hillary Clinton’s Campaign in 2016 & Only $886 to Trump’s Campaign During the Same Cycle
In 2016, Darden Restaurants employees gave $886 to Trump’s election campaign, according to Open Secrets. During that same cycle, employees for the restaurant company gave $8,407 to Hillary Clinton.
The Open Secrets website states, “This table lists candidates receiving money from this organization in 2015-2016. The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals may include subsidiaries and affiliates. The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more. All donations were made during the 2016 election cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission. Figures for the current election cycle are based on data released on June 10, 2019.”
Darden does not have an active PAC, and the PAC did not make any contributions to Trump before it was shut down.
Darden’s president and CEO, Gene Lee has not contributed to Trump or any Trump-affiliated PACs, FEC records show. Dan Kiernan, the president of Olive Garden, has also not contributed to Trump. Charles Sonsteby, the chairman of Darden’s board of directors, has also not made contributions to Trump. Sonsteby’s only contribution in the 2019-2020 election cycle has been to a Democrat running for Congress in Illinois.
The restaurant chain said in a 2013 political disclosure, “Darden encourages our employees to be active participants in the political process. Such activities are considered personal and may not involve the use of Company resources or coercive actions. Darden will not reimburse directly or indirectly employees who make personal political contributions or expend money on behalf of candidates. Darden will not pressure or coerce employees to make personal contributions or take retaliatory actions against any employee who chooses not to become involved. No Darden employee, manager, director or officer shall pressure or seek to influence another Darden employee to support a particular candidate, financially or otherwise. We respect our employees’ political choices.”