Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Big firms gave big to backers of voting limits, report finds
WASHINGTON — When executives from Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines spoke out against Georgia’s new voting law as unduly restrictive last week, it seemed to signal a new activism springing from corporate America.
But if leaders of the nation’s most prominent companies are going to reject lawmakers who support restrictive voting measures, they will have to reverse course.
State legislators across the country who have pushed for new voting restrictions, and also seized on former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, have reaped more than $50 million in corporate donations in recent years, according to a new report by Public Citizen, a Washington-based government watchdog group.
Telecom giant AT&T was the most prolific, donating over $800,000 since 2015 to authors of proposed restrictions, co-sponsors of such measures or those who voted in favor of the bills, the report found. Other top donors during the same period include Comcast, Philip Morris USA, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, Verizon, General Motors and Pfizer.
The money may not have been given with voting laws in mind, but it helped cement Republican control in statehouses where many of the prohibitive measures are now moving forward.
Whether companies continue to give to these lawmakers will test how far risk-averse corporate leaders are willing to go in their increasingly forceful criticism of the restrictive efforts, which voting rights groups have excoriated as an attack on democracy.
“It really is corporate
America, as a whole, that is funding these politicians,” said Mike Tanglis, one of the authors of the report. “It seems many are trying to hide under a rock and hope that this issue passes.”
More than 120 companies detailed in the report previously said they would rethink their donations to members of Congress who, acting on the same falsehoods as the state lawmakers, objected to the certification of President Joe Biden’s win following the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
The tension is most evident now in Georgia, where a far-reaching new voting law has drawn an intense national scrutiny, prompting the criticism from Delta and Coca-Cola. On Friday, MLB announced it won’t host the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta.
Yet it’s unclear whether this aggressive new posture will extend to corporate campaign donation practices. And early indicators show there is risk.
Georgia’s Republican-controlled House voted to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars annually for their criticism of the new law, though the action was rendered moot after the GOP Senate failed to take it up before the legislative session adjourned.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged companies to resist what he called a “coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead and bully the American people.”
“Our private sector must stop taking cues from 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 frantic left-wing signaling.”
Pressure has been particularly intense in Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp recently signed a sweeping new law that bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials, among many other provisions.
Two of the top corporate contribution recipients detailed in Public Citizen’s report were among the sponsors of the measure.
Since 2015, Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis has collected more than $869,000 in donations from corporate PACs. Among his top corporate donors were AT&T ($15,900) and UnitedHealth Group ($12,900), according to the report. Mullis is chair of the Georgia Senate’s Rules Committee, which plays a key role in determining which bills make it to the floor for a vote.
Republican state Sen. Butch Miller, another sponsor of the bill, has received at least $729,000 in corporate donations since 2015. Among his top corporate givers are UnitedHealth ($15,700) and AT&T ($13,600), the report states.
Miller and Mullis did not respond to requests for comment.