Since 2015, AT&T, Comcast, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, and other big businesses have donated a combined $50 million to state Republican lawmakers who are currently supporting voter suppression bills across the United States—generous political spending at odds with recent corporate efforts to rebrand as defenders of voting rights.
A new report (pdf) released Monday morning by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that during the 2020 election cycle alone, U.S. corporations donated $22 million to Republican architects of voter suppression bills that are advancing through state legislatures nationwide.
"Corporations should keep their money out of our democracy—and Congress must put the people back in charge by swiftly passing the For The People Act."
—Rick Claypool, Public Citizen
"AT&T [since 2015] has given the most, $811,000," Public Citizen found, citing data from The National Institute on Money in Politics. "AT&T is followed by Altria/Philip Morris, Comcast, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, State Farm, and Pfizer. Household names that fell just out of the top 25 list... include Nationwide ($182,000), Merck ($180,000), CVS ($174,000), John Deere ($159,000), and Caterpillar ($157,000)."
"This is why you follow the money, not the good PR," Public Citizen tweeted.
The group's findings came after a number of prominent corporations—including AT&T, Comcast, and Georgia-based companies Coca-Cola and Delta—issued statements denouncing a sweeping Georgia voter suppression measure only after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law last month.
Despite vocal demands for them to speak out and use their influence to fight the bill, those companies were largely quiet as the measure made its way through Georgia's Republican-dominated legislature.
Between 2015 and 2020, according to Public Citizen, corporations donated more than $10.8 million to Georgia Republicans who are supporting the 26 voter suppression bills that have been introduced in the state's legislature this year. Corporations have also donated big to voter suppression advocates in Texas, Arizona, Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas.
"From coast to coast, politicians that Corporate America helped elect are pushing racist voter suppression laws," Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen's president's office and one of the authors of the new report, told Common Dreams.
"No matter how many PR statements Big Business puts out, its complicity with the anti-democratic forces that want to make voting harder is clear," Claypool added. "Corporations should keep their money out of our democracy—and Congress must put the people back in charge by swiftly passing the For The People Act."
According to the latest tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators have introduced 361 bills with vote-restricting provisions in 47 states this year, and five have become law.
Corporate money to lawmakers supporting voter suppression:
AT&T - $810,915
Comcast & NBC Universal - $439,700
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UnitedHealth - $411,200
Walmart - $376,617
State Farm - $315,370
Pfizer - $308,085
Koch - $293,000
Verizon - $246,075
Spread their shame.https://t.co/vnPJlbnOG3
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 5, 2021
In the wake of the January 6 Capitol insurrection by a mob of Trump supporters, many large corporations vowed to temporarily suspend all political giving as they faced backlash for financially supporting Republican members of Congress who helped provoke the attack with brazen lies about the 2020 presidential election.
But Public Citizen argued Monday that such face-saving efforts—as well as belated disavowals of voter suppression measures—"will amount to a meaningless gesture if corporations continue to bankroll the bills' supporters with future campaign contributions."
"The days in which corporate America can fund politicians and then claim no responsibly for their actions may be coming to an end," the group said. "Corporations seeking to demonstrate their reverence for our democracy could best do so by ending their attempts to influence the outcomes of elections at the federal and state levels."