By Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — When executives from Coca-Cola /zigman2/quotes/209159848/composite KO -0.06% and Delta Air Lines /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL +2.63% 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 abruptly 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 /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -0.77% was the most prolific, donating over $800,000 since 2015 to authors of proposed restrictions, cosponsors of such measures, or those who voted in favor of the bills, the report found. Other top donors during the same period include Comcast /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +1.98% , Philip Morris USA /zigman2/quotes/201611010/composite PM +0.61% , UnitedHealth Group /zigman2/quotes/210453738/composite UNH +0.65% , Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.60% , Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ -0.96% , General Motors /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM +0.46% and Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.00% .
The money may not have been given with voting laws in mind, but it nonetheless 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-adverse 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 deadly 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 would no longer 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.
What is certain, though, is that withholding corporate donations to state-level candidates, like many companies did at the federal level, would have a far greater impact in statehouses.
“A contribution of $5,000 to a U.S. 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 ad time,” said Tanglis. “If corporate America is going to say that (Trump’s) lie is unacceptable on the federal level, what about on the state level?”
Public Citizen analyzed about 245 voting restriction bills proposed before March 1. They culled a list of sponsors and cosponsors, while also analyzing vote roll calls. Then they cross-referenced the data with state-level donation records dating back to 2015, which included money from company political action committees, as well as direct contributions from corporate treasuries.
Among their findings: