WASHINGTON (AP) – When executives from Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines spoke Against Georgia’s new voting law for being unduly restrictive last week, it seemed to indicate a new activism emerging from American businesses.
But if the leaders of the country’s most prominent companies are to reject lawmakers who support restrictive voting measures, they will have to change course abruptly.
State legislators across the country who have pushed for new voting restrictions and also seized on former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have reaped more than $ 50 million in corporate donations in recent years. years, according to a new report from Public Citizen., a Washington-based government watchdog group.
Telecommunications giant AT&T was the most prolific, donating more than $ 800,000 since 2015 to authors of the proposed restrictions, co-sponsors 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 USA, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, Verizon, General Motors, and Pfizer.
The money may not have been delivered with voting laws in mind, but it nonetheless helped cement Republican control in public powers where many of the prohibitive measures are moving forward.
The fact that companies continue to give to these lawmakers will test how far risk-averse corporate leaders are willing to go in their increasingly blunt criticism of restrictive efforts, which voting rights groups have criticized as an attack on the law. democracy.
“It really is 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 will pass.”
More than 120 companies detailed in the report previously said they would reconsider their donations to members of Congress who, acting with the same falsehoods as state lawmakers, opposed President Joe Biden’s certification of victory following the deadly attack on the United States Capitol. United by Trump. supporters.
The tension is most evident now in Georgia, where a powerful new voting law has drawn intense national scrutiny, prompting criticism from Delta and Coca-Cola. On Friday, MLB announced that it would no longer host the 2021 All-Star Game. in Atlanta.
However, it is unclear whether this aggressive new stance will extend to corporate campaign donation practices. And the first indicators show that there is risk.
Republican-controlled Georgia 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 useless after the Republican Senate failed to accept it before the legislative session was suspended.
What is certain, however, is that withholding corporate donations to candidates at the state level, as many companies did at the federal level, would have a much greater impact on state chambers.
“A contribution of $ 5,000 to a US senator who is raising $ 30 million is a drop in a bucket. But in some of these state races, a few thousand dollars can buy a lot of advertising time, ”Tanglis said. “If American companies are going to say that (Trump’s) lie is unacceptable at the federal level, what happens at the state level?”
Public Citizen analyzed around 245 voting restriction bills proposed before March 1. They selected a list of sponsors and co-sponsors, while also analyzing roll-call votes. They then cross-checked the data with state-level donation records dating back to 2015, which included money from the company’s political action committees, as well as direct contributions from corporate treasuries.
Among his findings:
– Businesses donated at least $ 50 million to lawmakers who supported voting restrictions, including $ 22 million in the 2020 campaign cycle.
– At least 81 Fortune 100 companies have awarded a combined $ 7.7 million to supporters of the restrictions.
– Nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies donated a combined $ 12.8 million to supporters of the restrictions.
About three-quarters of the companies that changed their donation policies after the attack on the US Capitol have also done so to lawmakers who supported voting rights restrictions.
– More than 60 companies have given at least $ 100,000 to lawmakers who supported the restrictions.
– Separately, industry groups and trade associations contributed an additional $ 36 million to legislators, of which $ 16 million was delivered during the 2020 cycle.
In response, AT&T said “the right to vote is sacred,” but declined to say whether the company would withhold donations to state legislators as it did to members of Congress who opposed Biden’s victory.
“We understand that electoral laws are complicated, not the experience of our company and, ultimately, the responsibility of elected officials. But, as a company, we have a responsibility to get involved, “AT&T CEO John Stankey said in a statement.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in a statement: “We strongly oppose the passage of any legislation or the adoption of any measure that makes voting difficult.” But he did not promise any specific action.
Comcast said in a statement that “efforts to limit or impede access to this vital constitutional right for any citizen are not consistent with our values.” The company declined to comment on whether it would evaluate its donations to lawmakers who support the measures.
Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, said in a statement that “all eligible voters should be able to exercise their right to vote” and pledged to monitor the “alignment of legislators with the guiding principles of our political contribution when making decisions. on future contributions “.
Other companies listed in the report declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries from The Associated Press.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged companies to resist what he called a “coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to deceive and intimidate the American people.”
“Our private sector must stop following the signs of the Outrage-Industrial Complex,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement. “Americans do not need or want big business to amplify … or react to every manufactured controversy with frenzied signals from the left.”
The pressure has been particularly intense in Georgia, where Republican Governor Brian Kemp recently signed a new law that prohibits people from delivering food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections , remove and replace county elections 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. Its top corporate donors include AT&T ($ 15,900) and UnitedHealth 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 go up for a vote.
Republican State Senator Butch Miller, another sponsor of the bill, has received at least $ 729,000 in corporate donations since 2015. His top corporate donors include UnitedHealth Group ($ 15,700) and AT&T ($ 13,600), according to the report.
Miller and Mullis did not respond to requests for comment.