walmart calls its employees “heroes” for putting their health at risk at work during the pandemic. AT&T defends LGBTQ rights. Microsoft is undertaking one of the nation’s most ambitious corporate efforts to eliminate carbon emissions.
At a time when Corporate America is speaking out on some of the most important issues of our time, there is a contradiction between the words of today’s corporations and the role they have played in helping to create the moment in which we are.
A review of political spending over the past decade shows how these companies — and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies — have quietly funded political efforts contrary to their public positions. They funded state attorneys general seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provided health insurance to millions of Americans during the pandemic; they provided funds that supported local lawmakers who tried to roll back LGBTQ rights; and they donated money to support candidates who challenged federal climate change initiatives.
Uniquely, public corporations are the biggest benefactors of major political committees supporting campaigns, donating more than individuals or other groups.
Analysis of donations by the Center for Political Accountability, a nonpartisan organization that tracks political disclosures, reveals many contradictions: Walmart was among the companies that donated money to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which supported a group of state attorneys general, including Ken Paxton of Texas, who narrowly won reelection in 2018 and now leads a group of Republican-led states in a Supreme Court case that seeks to overturn key aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
AT&T, which says its policies prohibiting employee discrimination based on sexual orientation date back to the 1970s, provided funding to the same group, which helped elect Pat McCrory in North Carolina in 2012. M McCrory, the former governor, signed the “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people to use public restrooms that matched the gender listed on their birth certificates (and was later reversed).
Microsoft, which says it supports sustainability, provided money to the Republican Governors Association, which funneled money to help elect Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania in 2010, which lowered emissions standards for the industry oil and gas.
These corporate donations to political groups at the state level go to charities called “527,” named after a section of the tax code. The 527 designation allows companies to funnel money to applicants without giving to specific individuals. The donations, which come from corporate treasury departments — not corporate political action committees — can be tracked by tracking the money donated to a 527 and looking at how it’s distributed.
The numbers tell the story: Of the $1.3 billion raised over the past decade by Democratic and Republican Governors’ Associations, State Legislative Campaign Committees and Attorneys General’s Associations, 46%, nearly $600 million came from public companies and their trade associations, far more than the 22% share of individuals and 16% of private companies, according to the Center for Political Accountability. Two-thirds of business and trade association money, or about $390 million, went to Republican-affiliated groups.
The companies say they donate to organizations associated with both sides, that their contributions are not endorsements of particular politicians or policies, and that they have no control over how their money is used by the parties. groups. All of this is true, but the positions of these same companies on particular social and environmental issues put them largely at odds with Republican lawmakers and heads of state houses across the country. Of course, for companies that talk as openly about lower taxes or lighter regulations as they do about climate change, their donations to Democratic groups could also be seen as going against their interests.
A Walmart spokesperson said: “We’re supporting elected officials on both sides of the aisle to ensure our business can continue to save our customers time and money while operating in the best possible shopping environment. .” His donations to 527 groups are intended to “bring policy makers together to address state-level issues” and are not endorsements of any particular politician.
Indeed, companies are motivated to make such political donations because it potentially buys them access – and they hope, favor – to politicians who can directly affect their companies. They may want to listen to a politician about a tax treatment, a government contract or a regulatory measure. During the pandemic, having a direct line to the governor’s office has been key in how some businesses have sought to influence reopening plans.
Or a company could face a legal challenge. Facebook, which donated to Republican and Democratic state attorneys general associations, is the subject of antitrust investigations by 47 states as well as the Department of Justice.
Donations to 527 groups can give companies leverage with intended legislators, but since companies have no say in how their money is spent by these organizations, a portion of their donations can also go to figures that donors would not choose to support in isolation. A Microsoft spokesperson said, “We have no role in the decisions these groups make to provide financial support to individual candidates for public office.”
Today, when employees and the public expect more from companies than maximizing profits, it is untenable for a company to espouse a public position while giving money to political figures, even indirectly, who seek to undermine it.
Some corporate donations are apparently more hypocritical: Companies like Google, AT&T, Sony and Target — which say they support Black Lives Matter — have PACs that donated directly to the campaign trail of Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who says she is “categorically” opposed to the group, like the outlet’s Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria Popular information reported.
Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, said “corporations don’t pay attention – they give to these groups and that’s basically where their due diligence stops.” Data shows some of the nation’s largest corporations have funded “severe restrictions or bans on abortions, the rollback of LGBTQ rights, the filing of lawsuits challenging federal climate change initiatives, and gerrymandering, some racially motivated.” “. while publicly arguing to the contrary, he adds.
In truth, donations — often below seven figures — pale in comparison to the buying power of companies like Microsoft or Walmart. But that money can have an outsized influence on state-level politics, especially when it’s pooled among many companies.
The result is electing politicians who can change the rules for everyone in a state, including on issues that businesses say they care about. At a minimum, it risks undermining the time, effort and money companies spend on the environment, working conditions or other causes. Worse, it raises questions about how these companies actually value the issues they say they grant.