A likely wave of state abortion bans was bankrolled by corporations such as AT&T, Walmart, and Citi
May 12, 2022
Many of the corporate contributions stand in sharp contrast to each company's public stance when it comes to gender equity and women's empowerment. Take AT&T, which celebrated Women's Equality Day last year "to reflect on the many challenges women in our society still face to achieve equity." In its 2020 Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Report, CEO John Stankey called " gender equity and the empowerment of women " one of AT&T's "core values. "
An AT&T spokeswoman said the company is focused on broadband and workforce-related policies, and the company's PACs have contributed more to politicians "who voted to enact laws protecting abortion access in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court," than to those who vote to restrict it. Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser has touted the financial services firm's efforts to achieve gender equality in the male-dominated industry, saying she's "very optimistic" about that goal. Following passage of Texas' six-week abortion ban, the bank offered to cover travel costs for US employees who must travel out of state to receive an abortion. But Insider found that Citi has also donated some $285,200 to state legislators who sponsored trigger laws in four states, and to governors who signed them into law in five states. AT&T, Citigroup, and other companies still bear responsibility for the politicians they support, said Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of Campaign for Accountability. "When AT&T gives money to a politician who then signs a trigger law, maybe AT&T did not intend for that to happen, but that politician is only able to perpetuate their power because of AT&T and other corporations' support," she told Insider. Other findings reveal contributions that appear to work against corporations' stated values or, in some cases, against their own business interests. Amazon and Microsoft have staked out leadership roles in responding to a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, pledging publicly to assist employees with travel expenses to access abortions if needed. Yet each company shows up in Insider's analysis. They have donated $52,900 and $92,500, respectively, to lawmakers behind state bans. Likewise, many top US law firms including Norton Rose Fulbright, Adams & Reese, Locke Lord, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and Vinson & Elkins LLP, have developed women's career advancement initiatives and diversity programs — yet they or their associated political action committees were each among the companies that donated more than $100,000 to politicians behind trigger laws. Contributors in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, including hospitals, drug companies, pharmacies, and medical associations, contributed $12.4 million to politicians behind trigger laws that could lead to criminal penalties for abortion providers in most trigger law states. Among those contributors are companies that market birth control – Pfizer, which gave $281,000, and Merck, which gave $165,000 — that is often dispensed through clinics that offer abortions. Pfizer also markets Cytotec, a medication used in medical abortions . Major corporate players in low-wage industries already struggling with recruitment and retention show up as influential donors in Insider's analysis. These companies may face significant new disruption and turnover as employees in trigger law states grapple with unplanned pregnancies. Walmart, a top employer in each of the trigger law states, according to data provided exclusively to Insider from the Data Axle data marketing company, is also one of the largest contributors, donating nearly $292,000 to trigger law backers. McDonald's and the fast food corporation Yum! Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, are other dominant trigger state employers that gave lesser amounts. 'By no means a blanket endorsement'
The findings raise questions about corporate responsibility as companies face increased scrutiny for their role in politics. After the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, major corporations halted contributions to the 147 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election. More recently, Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized state legislation restricting instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools and he announced the company would halt donations to state political campaigns there. The move provoked sharp backlash, with the state legislature stripping Disney of its special tax status in April. Half of US voters in a Morning Consult and Politico survey conducted after Politico broke the news of the Supreme Court's plans to strike down Roe said companies should speak out on abortion access. Only a third of those surveyed disagreed. A rally for abortion rights in Houston, Texas, May 7, 2022. Texas passed an abortion "trigger law" last year. Corporate America and law firms need to be "far more sophisticated," said Michele Goodwin, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, school of law. "They have to do a more thorough job of unpacking what the candidates they support are actually up to. They can't just say they're writing checks for a candidate based on a single issue. "
Publicists for Serena Williams, Rosario Dawson and John Legend did not respond to Insider's requests for comment. Very few companies responded, either. Those that did said they contribute to members of both political parties. "Past political contributions are by no means a blanket endorsement of an individual's position on every issue, nor are they an indication of where we'll direct our future support," said Mike DeAngelis, executive director of corporate communications for CVS Health. Companies have long rationalized that giving to politicians in both political parties gives them more access, said Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures, an investor in reproductive health companies. But the risks of corporate giving are increasing with the polarization of politics, she said, and the discernment and oversight these contributions require has not kept pace. In an effort to tweak the tax code, for example, companies end up contributing to politicians promoting an agenda that often conflicts with the company's organizational values, making them look like they're hypocrites, indifferent, or simply not paying attention, she said. "If you're going to spend the money on a really delicious pizza with all the meat toppings," she said, "you're getting all the cholesterol and heart attack that you paid for as well. "
'Sophisticated donors know'
Since Politico published the leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion, many politicians have released statements reaffirming their anti-abortion bona fides — including those responsible for state trigger laws. "I have advocated for the reversal of Roe v. Wade all my political career," tweeted Asa Hutchinson , governor of Arkansas, who signed his state's trigger law in 2019. "The leak from someone within the court is reprehensible and should lead to an investigation but I do hope the court returns authority to the states." Where lawmakers stand on abortion isn't typically a secret. In many cases it's a central part of their brand, and shouldn't be a surprise to their donors. In states with trigger laws, a Republican candidate or officeholder "who isn't 100% pro-life is the equivalent of a pro-life Democrat in the northeast or west coast," said Nick Maddux, a vice president at Axiom Strategies, who has consulted for GOP candidates across the country. "They don't exist or are being actively primaried," he wrote in an email. "Candidates and officeholders in those states are not hiding how pro-life they are. Sophisticated donors know exactly who they are supporting and what they stand for." Alpern, who works with investors to advocate for stronger corporate reproductive and maternal healthcare policies, agreed that it would be "disingenuous" for donors to feign ignorance on this issue. "Do they know that they're giving to the most extreme sponsors of these bills?" she asked. "It certainly is easy information to find. "
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