While tech behemoth Salesforce has one of the most liberal workforces in the United States—and the company’s founder, Marc Benioff, is known as the “woke CEO”—many employees appear to have largely been left in the dark about one notable client: the Republican National Committee.
And according to internal Slack messages obtained by The Daily Beast, a number of workers aren’t happy.
“Unfortunately, except for some empty words here and there, I can tell you how Salesforce continues to support the very perpetrators of the attack on our democracy,” one employee wrote in a channel for questions before a recent all-hands meeting.
The employee went on to note that, after a brief hiatus following Jan. 6, Salesforce has been “one of the very few tech companies” to allow Donald Trump to use its platform.
“Personally, I view this issue (the attack on our democracy) as the single most important issue of our time,” this employee continued. “Everything else—all the pretty words about Equality, Ethical and humane use of the platform, etc.—all of it is meaningless if we fail to act to save the very existence of our democracy. I wish we as employees could organize to make it loud and clear to leadership that time for action is now.”
Salesforce’s relationship with the RNC made news last year after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but very little has come out since then. The veil was only lifted slightly earlier this month when the RNC sued its vendor as part of a broader effort to block a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection.
Decision-makers at the company refuse to answer employee questions about the lawsuit, according to Slack messages (the digital messaging company that Salesforce actually owns). When employees pressed for answers at that recent all-hands meeting, an external affairs executive repeatedly noted this was “a situation between a customer and the government.”
“We’ll follow the court’s direction. That’s all we have to share at this point,” this employee, senior director of public affairs Margaret Taylor, said.
But the Slacks indicate that even some employees in leadership positions—including at the executive level—hadn’t been up to speed about Salesforce’s relationship with the RNC.
“Anyone else have this in their bingo card?” wrote one employee on March 9, a senior director on one of three Salesforce products the RNC uses. He included a link to the Axios article breaking the news that the GOP was preparing to add Salesforce as a defendant in its lawsuit against the House panel.
“How did we get caught up in this one?” a senior developer asked two days later, linking to a Politico follow-up.
“We powered the RNC fundraising efforts?!” exclaimed a vice president of product management, also reacting to the Axios scoop.
“Oy vey we should sometimes say ‘no thanks’ to deals,” the executive remarked, calling the relationship “terrible optics” and “frankly hypocritical to our values.”
Those values derive in part from the Salesforce founder, billionaire Marc Benioff, who over the years has given millions of dollars to Democratic causes—a practice he dropped shortly after buying TIME magazine in 2018.
But in an all-hands call last week, top officials declined to respond to general questions about the company’s divisive client, which had been asked on Slack—such as, “Why are we being sued by the RNC?”
Those concerns remain largely internal, thanks in part to a famously fierce loyalty among the company’s 70,000-person workforce. (In all, more than three dozen employees either declined to comment or did not respond to requests from The Daily Beast.)
Only two employees would speak and supply internal Slack messages. One called the recent all-hands meeting—which Benioff was not present for—“inspiring to me,” and declined to comment further. The other, who shared an article about the lawsuit on Slack, said he was surprised at the news but didn’t attend the call.
On official fronts, however, the company was bracing its workers for a wave of criticism.
A few days after the RNC named Salesforce as a defendant, sales managers warned their charges on Slack that an unspecified “pending lawsuit” might lead to a coming “influx” of combative calls and messages. The bosses offered a few “guiding principles” in identical bullet points, noting that “we haven’t had anything like this in a while.”
“Keep calm,” the points advised, adding “do not engage in debate or opinion sharing” on calls.
Another bullet read: “Our team deserves to be treated with respect. If a prospect/caller is not treating you with respect, notify them you will be ending the call.”
The notes asked employees to “check in” with superiors “ASAP” if they receive calls about the lawsuit, and offered a link if workers wanted to learn more about the (still unidentified) legal action.
That action came hours before Salesforce was due to provide the House panel with teams of RNC-related data, per a subpoena last month. The RNC had bristled at the request, claiming it would suffer “direct harm” to operations if investigators “rummaged through” private information, which, according to the lawsuit, includes email and fundraising analytics, donor data, and login histories for members of the RNC and Trump campaign.
Salesforce initially declined to respond to the subpoena, but reversed course when faced with the threat of contempt. The RNC saw its only chance was to include the company as a defendant and hopefully earn a last-minute stay. The play paid off, and the committee agreed to push the subpoena deadline until after a hearing, set for April 1.
Salesforce—a sprawling global corporation which services some of the biggest brands in the world—contracts three products with the RNC, which the group uses to administer fundraising efforts. Those efforts are of interest to congressional investigators for a number of reasons, including an inquiry into whether the RNC defrauded donors with fundraising appeals based on lies about the election. The select committee could also identify individuals who oversaw the email campaigns, and the donor information could allow them to match names of targeted contributors with Donald Trump supporters who entered the Capitol or helped orchestrate the attack.
The House panel rejects the RNC’s accusations, saying the subpoena is critical to its mission, and that investigators have no interest in harvesting personal or proprietary information.
And while the lawsuit may have landed Salesforce in the news, it wasn’t the first post-insurrection story to ruffle the corporate rank and file.
Employees have reacted internally to a handful of articles linking the company to the RNC and right-wing efforts over the last year—including a report about Salesforce’s contract with alt-social media platform Parler, where insurrectionists plotted political violence. Slack messages over that time ran from unmitigated outrage to agnostic “business is business” shrugs that, as long as the RNC is fulfilling its contractual obligations, the company shouldn’t cut its ties.
The company, however, didn’t see it that way—not at first. But it quickly changed its mind.
A few days after the riot, VICE reported that Salesforce had taken certain unenumerated steps to prevent the RNC and Trump campaign from using their platform to perpetuate violence. In a statement, the company said it was “deeply troubled by the terrible events of January 6,” but assessed that “there remains a risk of politically incited violence across the country.”
The statement acknowledged the RNC as a “long-standing customer,” and said that the company had taken unclarified “action” to prevent the political committee from abusing its services “in any way that could lead to violence.”
For its part, the RNC said it had paused its digital fundraising, including with Salesforce.
But in the three days leading up to the attack, the Trump campaign sent 19 emails, including four on the morning of Jan. 6, Motherboard reported. And rolling back the clock to Election Day, the campaign blasted out 569 emails—or nearly nine a day.
Then, on Jan. 7, the small-dollar joint fundraising committee shared between the campaign and the RNC—called “Trump Make America Great Again”—cut Salesforce a check for $2.65 million.
However, the hiatus was apparently short-lived. It wasn’t long before Salesforce re-opened for business with election objectors, including the RNC and Trump campaign.
In March, the RNC paid Salesforce $3.4 million in two installments, according to Federal Election Commission records, the first of seven disbursements last year. TMAGA forked over another $2.65 million in October, and the two national GOP organizations dedicated to re-electing Republican congressional incumbents shelled out a combined $1.7 million for Salesforce services over the course of 2021. About $1.5 million of that came from the senatorial arm, helmed by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), an election objector.
Salesforce also contracted with another election objector after the attempted coup, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), to the tune of $30,000 over three months. And the Pennsylvania state GOP, which participated in a failed legal effort to replace its rightful slate of Democratic electors with Republicans, paid the software giant about $9,000 over the course of two months.
In total, Salesforce has reaped more than $21.6 million from Republican committees since the riot, about $16 million of it from organizations tied to efforts to overturn the election. It counted only two Democratic clients: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for a total $25,000; and the National Democratic Training Committee, for $31,800.
For comparison, nearly 90 percent of Salesforce employee contributions in the 2020 election went to Democrats, but about 998 of every 1,000 dollars the company made from political work after the Jan. 6 attack came from Republicans.
And in February of this year, the RNC re-upped its Salesforce contracts, making a record payment of $8 million on Feb. 18.
Five days later, the company got its subpoena.
Salesforce did not reply to a request for comment. An RNC spokesperson responded to detailed written questions with a request for an off-the-record conversation, which The Daily Beast declined, and the RNC ultimately pointed us to previous statements largely unrelated to the situation at Salesforce.