When Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines executives spoke out against Georgia’s new voting law as unduly restrictive last week, it seemed to signal new activism from U.S. companies.
But if the leaders of the nation’s most important companies are going to reject lawmakers who support restrictive voting measures, they will have to abruptly turn the tide.
State lawmakers across the country who have pushed for new voting restrictions, and also seized upon former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud, have raised more than $ 50 million in corporate donations in recent years, according to a new report from Public Citizen a Washington-based government watchdog group.
Telecommunications giant AT&T has been the most prolific, giving more than $ 800,000 since 2015 to the authors of the proposed restrictions, the cosponsors of such measures or those who voted in favor of the bills, according to the report. Other major donors during the same period include Comcast, Philip Morris, United Health, Walmart, Verizon, General Motors and Pfizer.
The money may not have been given with voting laws in mind, but it nevertheless helped solidify Republican control in states where many of the prohibitive measures are now advancing.
Whether companies continue to give these lawmakers will test how far risk-averse business leaders are willing to go in their increasingly vigorous criticism of restrictive efforts, which rights groups voters accused of attacking democracy.
“It’s really corporate America, as a whole, that is funding these politicians,” said Mike Tanglis, one of the report’s authors. It seems that many are trying to hide under a rock and hope this problem passes.
More than 120 companies detailed in the report have previously said they would rethink their donations to members of Congress who, acting on the same lies as state lawmakers, opposed the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory at the aftermath of Trump’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. supporters.
The tension is more evident now in Georgia, where a far-reaching new voting law has sparked intense national scrutiny, which has drawn criticism from Delta and Coca-Cola. MLB announced on Friday that it will no longer host the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta.
Yet it is not known whether this aggressive new posture will extend to corporate campaign giving practices. And the first indicators show that there is a risk.
Georgia’s Republican-controlled House voted to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars a year for its criticism of the new law, though the action was rendered moot after the GOP Senate did not take it until the legislative session adjourned.
What is certain, however, is that withholding corporate donations from applicants at the state level, as many businesses have done at the federal level, would have a much greater impact in the states.
A $ 5,000 contribution to a US senator who raises $ 30 million is a drop in the bucket. But in some of those state races, a few thousand dollars can buy a lot of advertising time, Tanglis said. If American companies mean that (Trump’s) lie is unacceptable at the federal level, what about at the state level?
Public Citizen analyzed around 245 proposed voting restriction bills before March 1. They selected a list of sponsors and cosponsors, while also analyzing the nominative calls. Then, they crossed the data with state-level donation records from 2015, which included funds from corporate-sponsored political action committees, as well as direct contributions from corporate treasury.
Among their discoveries:
The companies gave at least $ 50 million to lawmakers who supported voting restrictions, including $ 22 million in the 2020 campaign cycle.
At least 81 Fortune 100 companies gave supporters of the restrictions a combined total of $ 7.7 million.
Almost half of all Fortune 500 companies gave a combined total of $ 12.8 million to supporters of the restrictions.
About three-quarters of companies that changed their donation policy after the attack on the U.S. Capitol also donated to lawmakers who supported restrictions on voting rights.
More than 60 companies have given at least $ 100,000 to lawmakers who supported the restrictions.
Separately, industry groups and trade associations have paid an additional $ 36 million to lawmakers, of which $ 16 million was paid in the 2020 cycle.
In response, AT&T said the right to vote was sacred, but declined to say whether the company would deny donations to state lawmakers as they did to members of Congress who opposed Biden’s victory.
We understand that election laws are complicated, not our company’s expertise and ultimately the accountability of elected officials. But, as a company, we have a responsibility to engage, ”said John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, in a statement.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in a statement: We strongly oppose passing any legislation or adopting any measure that would make voting more difficult. ”But he stopped before promising a specific action.
Comcast said in a statement that “efforts to limit or prevent access to this vital constitutional right for every citizen are inconsistent with our values. The company would not comment on whether it would assess its donations to lawmakers supporting the measures.
Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, said in a statement that every eligible voter should be able to exercise their right to vote and pledged to monitor the alignment of lawmakers with our guiding principles of political input during making future contribution decisions. ”
Other companies listed in the report declined to comment or did not respond to requests from The Associated Press.
The pressure has been particularly intense in Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp recently signed sweeping new law that bans people from handing out food or water to voters in line and allows the State Election Commission Republican-controlled dismissal and replacement of county election officials. , among many other provisions.
Two of the main recipients of corporate contributions detailed in the Public Citizen report were among the sponsors of the measure.
Since 2015, Republican State Senator Jeff Mullis has raised more than $ 869,000 in corporate PAC donations. Among its top corporate donors were AT&T ($ 15,900) and United Health Group ($ 12,900), according to the report. Mullis is chairman of the Georgia Senate Rules Committee, which plays a key role in determining which bills will be voted on.
Republican State Senator Butch Miller, another sponsor of the bill, has received at least $ 729,000 in corporate donations since 2015. Its top corporate donors include United Health Group ($ 15,700) and AT&T (13 $ 600), the report says.
Miller and Mullis did not respond to requests for comment.
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