By Mike Tanglis, Taylor Lincoln and Rick Claypool
- Corporations have contributed $50 million since 2015 to state legislators supporting voter suppression bills, including $22 million during the 2020 election cycle.
- AT&T has given the most, $811,000. AT&T is followed by Altria / Philip Morris ($679,000), Comcast ($440,000), UnitedHealth Group ($411,000), Walmart ($377,000), State Farm (315,000) and Pfizer ($308,000). More than 60 corporations have contributed more than $100,000.
- Among the Fortune 100, 81 companies have contributed to these lawmakers, giving a combined total of $7.7 million.
- Among the Fortune 500, 45 percent of companies have contributed to these lawmakers, giving a combined total of $12.8 million.
- Three quarters of the companies that altered their campaign finance policies in response to the January 6 insurrection have given to the supporters of voter suppression bills.
- Industry trade groups contributed $36 million to state legislators supporting voter suppression bills, including $16 million during the 2020 election cycle.
Corporate America was quick to demonstrate its disapproval of members of Congress who supported Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and disenfranchise millions of voters. At least 123 corporations and corporate trade associations altered their political giving policies after the January 6 Capitol riot, such as by suspending giving to the 147 members of Congress who voted to block the certification of presidential electors or pausing campaign contributions to all federal candidates.
It should not be all that surprising that corporations were eager to distance themselves from officials who, following Trump’s lead, attempted to sabotage our democracy. Overturning democratic elections and suppressing votes are not, after all, positions easily defended.
Which is why it’s noteworthy that so many businesses and business associations backed the mostly Republican state lawmakers who are now pushing about 250 bills that would make voting in the next election more difficult – and which would disproportionately disenfranchise Black Americans and other groups of voters who typically support Democratic candidates.
The bills that have been proposed hearken back to one of the most shameful chapters in America’s history – the Jim Crow era of legalized discrimination when, among other horrors, barriers were created to prevent Black Americans from voting.
Today’s proposed voting restrictions are cloaked in rhetoric of deterring voter fraud. But this rationale is a ruse, as cases of voter fraud are extremely rare, a fact well known to supporters of voter suppression measures. Trump, himself, established a commission during his presidency to document cases of voter fraud. He then abruptly shut down the commission after its search came up empty.
The pending state legislative proposals are patently intended to create obstacles to lawful voting. Many would shorten early voting periods or prohibit voting on Sundays, a day on which many Black communities traditionally vote in large numbers. Others call for reducing the number of drop boxes for voters to submit their ballots.
Some would all-but-prohibit mail-in voting. One proposal would retain mail-in voting but would impose the onerous requirement that ballots sent through the mail must bear the seal of a public notary. Another proposal would make it a crime for volunteers to provide food or water to voters standing for hours in line. Communities with large numbers of people of color, of course, tend to endure the longest waiting periods to cast their ballots.
One proposal would go beyond merely suppressing the vote by giving the legislature permission to throw out the vote, altogether. Yes, there is a bill in Arizona that would allow the legislature to overrule the will of the voters in a presidential election.
This report looks at the corporations and trade associations supporting state legislators who are seeking to return America to its horrifying past.
Public Citizen analyzed three main datasets: Voter suppression bills, voter suppression bill supporters, and state level corporate contribution data.
For the list of voter suppression bills – which includes 245 bills in total – we used data provided by the Voting Rights Lab as of March 1, 2021.
To gather the names of lawmakers supporting these bills, we took the names of bill authors and co-sponsors from the Voting Rights Lab. In cases where the bills have been voted on, Public Citizen supplemented the supporters’ dataset by adding the state legislators who voted in favor of the legislation. In total, more than 800 elected officials have either authored, co-sponsored, or voted for these bills as of March 9, 2021. [hereinafter: bill supporters]
For contributions made to the voter suppression bill supporters, Public Citizen used data provided by the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org). The contributions highlighted throughout this report include both contributions made by company PACs and contributions made directly from corporate treasuries.
I. Corporations Have Given the Supporters of Voter Suppression Bills $50 Million Since 2015, $22 Million in the 2020 Cycle
Since 2015, corporations in the United States have given $50 million to the state lawmakers supporting voter suppression bills. This total includes $22 million during the 2020 cycle. AT&T has given the most, $811,000. AT&T is followed by Altria / Philip Morris, Comcast, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, State Farm and Pfizer. [Table I]
Table I: The 25 Companies Contributing the Most to the Supporters of Voter Suppression Bills (Includes contributions from 2015 to 2020)
|Company||2020 Election Cycle Contributions||Total Contributions 2015 - 2020|
|Altria / Philip Morris||$351,850||$678,700|
|Comcast Corporation & NBC Universal||$167,400||$439,700|
|BNSF Railway Co||$151,990||$300,820|
|Union Pacific Corporation||$106,200||$243,050|
|RAI Services / Reynolds American||$102,550||$236,350|
|American Electric Power / AEP||$87,850||$209,450|
|HCA Management Services||$106,500||$203,700|
|D B H Management Consultants||$76,892||$200,192|
Sources: Public Citizen’s analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org).
Household names that fell just out of the top 25 list in Table I include Nationwide ($182,000), Merck ($180,000), CVS ($174,000), John Deere ($159,000) and Caterpillar ($157,000).
More than 60 corporations have contributed more than $100,000 to these state lawmakers over the past three cycles. Seventeen contributed more than $100,000 in the 2020 cycle alone.
More Than 80 Percent of the Fortune 100 Have Funded these Lawmakers, And Almost Half of the Fortune 500
Our analysis found that 81 of the Fortune 100 companies have contributed to supporters of voter suppression bills, giving a combined total of $7.7 million.
Walmart, which tops the Fortune 100 list, has contributed almost $377,000 to these politicians. In total, 26 companies in the Fortune 100 have contributed at least $100,000 to these state lawmakers. Six Fortune 100 companies – AT&T, Comcast, UnitedHealth Group, Walmart, Pfizer and State Farm – have each contributed more than $300,000. [Table II]
Table II: Fortune 100 Companies Contributing $100,000 or More to Supporters of Voter Suppression Bills (Includes contributions from 2015 to 2020)
|Fortune 100 Rank||Company||2020 Election Cycle Contributions||Total Contributions 2015 - 2020|
|39||Raytheon / Raytheon Technologies||$68,500||$154,050|
Sources: Public Citizen’s analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org) and Fortune.
The financial support for these lawmakers did not end with the Fortune 100. Public Citizen also found that 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies contributed to these lawmakers over the last three election cycles. They contributed a combined total of $12.8 million.
Six companies appearing on the Fortune 500 list – but outside of the top Fortune 100 – contributed $100,000 or more to these state lawmakers: Altria / Philip Morris ($679,000), Dominion Energy ($280,000), Union Pacific ($243,000), Ameren ($139,000), Eli Lilly ($124,000) and Waste Management ($107,000)
123 Companies Paused Federal Contributions After the Insurrection; Three Quarters of Them Have Contributed to the Voter suppression Bill Supporters
In response to the insurrection on January 6, at least 123 companies paused their PAC contributions either to those who objected to the electoral college vote or to all federal candidates, according to a CNN tracker.
A review of state level contribution data of these 123 companies reveals that more than three quarters of them – 94 companies – have contributed to the state level lawmakers pushing voter suppression legislation. In total, these 94 companies contributed $7.3 million over the three most recent election cycles. The 94 companies include many of the companies mentioned elsewhere in this report, including AT&T, Comcast, United Health Group and Walmart.
Many of these companies have already faced public backlash for their support of politicians pushing voter suppression bills, especially those put forth in Georgia.
The Effort to Disenfranchise Voters is Widespread; Voter Suppression Bills Have Been Introduced in at Least 16 States Legislatures
Voter suppression bills are being proposed around the country, but some states are pushing them more than others.
Public Citizen analyzed 245 voter suppression bills in 39 states gathered by the Voting Rights Lab. Nine state legislatures had 10 or more voter suppression bills introduced (as of March 1). Four states have more than 15 under consideration: Georgia (26), Arizona (24), New Jersey (17) and Texas (16). In total, there are 16 states in which five or more voter suppression bills have been introduced. [Table III]
Table III: States in Which Five or More Voter Suppression Bills Have Been Introduced (Includes contributions from 2015 to 2020)
|State||Total Contributions 2015 - 2020||Number of Voter Suppression Bills||Number of Bill Supporters|
Sources: Public Citizen’s analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org) and the Voting Rights Lab (VotingRightsLab.org).
As our analysis focuses on all bill supporters, including those voting on bills. The progress of each bill in the legislative process has a significant effect on the number of bill supporters identified. In Arkansas, for example, our dataset includes just one bill. But the bill has already been voted on in the House and the Senate, putting nearly 100 lawmakers on the record as supporting it. Corporate America has supported the Arkansas voter suppression bill supporters with $2.5 million in campaign contributions over the past three election cycles. A similar scenario exists in Iowa where three voter suppression bills covered in this analysis have a combined total of 87 confirmed supporters, almost all of whom voted for a single piece of voter suppression legislation that just recently became law. Iowa’s legislators supporting voter suppression bills have received $2.9 million from corporate America.
Voter suppression legislation supporters in 12 states have received more than $1.5 million from corporate America since 2015. [Table IV]
Table IV: States in Which Corporate America Has Contributed $1.5 Million or More to Supporters of Voter Suppression Bills (Includes contributions from 2015 to 2020)
|State||Total Contributions 2015 - 2020||Number of Voter Suppression Bills||Number of Bill Supporters|
Source: Public Citizen’s analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org).
In some states, some of the top contributors are local companies. In Texas and New Jersey for example, utility companies are among the biggest contributors. Oncor in Texas has contributed close to $87,000 to voter suppression bill supporters in the state, making it the fourth biggest contributor. In New Jersey, the Public Service Enterprise Group has contributed close the $46,000 to Texas voter suppression bill supporters, making it the third biggest contributor.
But for the most part, the list of top contributors in nearly every state is full of corporations with a national or even global footprint. AT&T for example, has contributed $10,000 or more to politicians supporting voter suppression legislation in 16 states. Altria / Philip Morris has done so in 12 states, Comcast (11), UnitedHealth (8), Pfizer (8) and Walmart (6).
In fact, 18 of the top 25 contributing companies highlighted in Table I contributed a combined $10,000 or more to the politicians supporting voter suppression legislation in at least five different states.
The state politicians behind the voter suppression bills include some of my most well-funded and powerful members of the various state legislatures. For a full list of the top contributors in every state from Table IV, as well as the top recipients in each state and their top contributors, see the Appendix.
II. Trade Groups Contributed Another $36 Million to the Voter Suppression Bill Supporters, $16 Million in 2020 Alone
Corporate money has multiple ways of entering the bloodstream of our elections. Corporations have their PACs and corporate treasures to spend from. But corporations can also spend large amounts of money supporting industry trade groups that, in turn, spend heavily in elections. Trade groups have given $36 million to sponsors of voter suppression legislation. A total of 26 trade groups contributed $200,000 or more to the politicians supporting voter suppression legislation from 2015 to 2020. [Table V]
Table V: Trade Associations Contributing $200,000 or More to Supporters of Voter Suppression Bills (Includes contributions from 2015 to 2020)
|Contributor||Total Contributions 2015 - 2020|
|Texans For Lawsuit Reform||$901,500|
|Associated General Contractors of Iowa||$574,150|
|Iowa Association of Realtors||$462,500|
|Iowa Bankers Association||$458,290|
|Iowa Farm Bureau||$372,700|
|Arkansas Health Care Association||$344,187|
|Master Builders of Iowa||$323,750|
|Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association||$311,136|
|Iowa Health Care Association / Iowa Center for Assisted Living||$309,600|
|Georgia Trial Lawyers Association||$301,000|
|National Association of Realtors||$283,200|
|Georgia Association of Realtors||$278,950|
|Georgia Medical Association||$270,000|
|Texas Association of Realtors||$265,740|
|Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Georgia||$243,607|
|Arkansas Realtors Association||$241,200|
|Virginia Wine Wholesalers Association||$234,350|
|Pennsylvania Association of Realtors||$229,150|
|Georgia Apartment Association||$227,600|
|Virginia Dental Association||$223,000|
|New Jersey Association of Realtors||$216,511|
|Automobile Retail Dealers of Georgia||$211,608|
|Virginia Bankers Association||$209,550|
|Georgia Bankers Association||$203,750|
|Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers Association of America / PhRMA||$200,000|
Sources: Public Citizen’s analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in Politics (FollowTheMoney.org).
III. Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Texas Have Produced Some of the Most Outrageous Bills
Voter suppression legislation is sweeping the country. But certain state legislatures have been particularly obsessed with creating obstacles to voting.
In Arizona, where Joe Biden prevailed in the presidential election, two dozen bills have been introduced by Republican legislators.
Additionally, Arizona’s attorney general defended the state’s existing voter-restricting laws before the U.S. Supreme Court in early March against a challenge brought by the Arizona’s secretary of state, who alleges the laws violate the Voting Rights Act. One of the laws prohibits anybody but a family member, household member or caregiver from turning in another person’s ballot. A lower court struck down the laws, basing its decision in part on their disproportionate negative effect on Black, Hispanic and Indigenous voters.
The currently pending bills would impose restrictions on early and mail-in voting and purge any voter from the official rolls after not voting in two consecutive elections. One proposal that has especially alarmed voting rights advocates would empower Arizona’s state legislature to overturn presidential election results even after they are certified.
The Arizona state director of All Voting is Local told the Los Angeles Times, “They all add up to changing our election system in substantial ways to basically respond to the ‘Big Lie’,” referring to Trump’s claims the only explanation for his loss is widespread fraud.
The bills that have advanced have done so along party lines. Republican Arizona Rep. John Kavanagh, a cosponsor of several bills, made clear his interest in reducing the number of people who vote. “Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote – but everybody shouldn’t be voting,” Kavanaugh said “Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues […] Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
Georgia was a key battleground during the presidential campaign and also afterward, when Trump pressured Georgia officials to investigate election fraud and to “find” enough votes to turn the election in his favor.
After surprise victories by Biden and two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates during a January runoff election, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature quickly pivoted to what they described as “security” measures designed to restore “confidence” in the state’s elections. Organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice and Voting Rights Lab have flagged the Georgia legislation as voter suppression efforts. In party-line votes, bills imposing new limits on absentee and early voting passed the Georgia House, and a bill to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting passed the Georgia Senate.
The New York Times reported that the bills likely will have a disproportionate negative impact on Black voters, who make up about one third of the state’s population and who primarily support Democrats. Stacey Abrams, founder of the voting rights organization Fair Fight, describes the Republican strategy behind the bills in stark terms: “Instead of winning new voters, you rig the system against their participation, and you steal the right to vote.”
A report by Popular Information found that the Republicans backing the voter suppression bills have been supported by millions in corporate political spending. Among the corporations is Coca-Cola, which has in the past supported get-out-the-vote efforts. Following pressure from grassroots activists, several Georgia-based corporations, including Coca-Cola, Aflac, Delta Air, Home Depot, and UPS, plus the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, voiced their opposition to the voter suppression bills.
Iowa was one of the quickest states to adopt new legislation to suppress votes after the 2020 election. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature fast-tracked bills to place new limits on mail and early voting, reduce the number of locations where votes can be dropped off, and place new limits on election officials seeking to increase voter turnout. The bills passed in party-line votes in February.
Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, one of the bill’s authors, responded to critics by saying, “What you call barriers, I call security. When you say that a sure count would disenfranchise 6,500 Iowans, I say I trust them to make a plan.”
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law in early March that will reduce early voting and shorten the hours that the polls are open on Election Day. The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, a civil rights group, filed a lawsuit to block the legislation’s implementation the day after Reynolds signed the bill.
In early February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared “election security” to be a top priority for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. Abbott conceded that no actual evidence of election fraud had been found. After all, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton conducted a 22,000-hour investigation and turned up only 16 cases, all for inaccurate addresses on voter registration forms, among the state’s 17 million registered voters. But Abbott was undeterred. “I do think that every election that we have, concerns are raised about election fraud. And we need to take steps to make sure that we address those concerns and do everything possible to reduce election fraud,” he said.
Following Abbott’s call to arms, Texas legislators introduced two dozen bills to place new restrictions on voters, including bills to limit early voting, mail-in voting and drive-through voting, and to accelerate purges of voter rolls.
Several of the restrictions are seen as targeting voter turnout initiatives implemented in Harris County, the state’s most populous county and the location of Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Harris is one of four counties in Texas where Joe Biden prevailed over Trump. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo criticized the legislative effort as “a poll tax…disguised as election integrity […] It’s clearly a direct response to the massive success we had in Harris County last year in terms of accessible and secure elections.”
After the January 6 insurrection many corporations announced they were pausing their campaign donations in some capacity. Public Citizen noted at the time that any measures short of lifetime bans on donations to federal level disenfranchisers likely amounted to nothing more than PR stunts.
The same logic applies to any corporation condemning these voter suppression bills at the state level, as some have already done in Georgia and Arizona. Disavowing these bills now 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. 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.