Amazon says it supports expanding voting rights but it gave $500,000 to lawmakers who oppose those efforts

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Amazon funds candidates who support policies that have made it harder for Americans – particularly African Americans – to vote.

  • Amazon said in a statement Tuesday that it supports efforts to “protect and expand” voting rights.
  • But the company spent more than $500,000 last election cycle funding politicians who oppose those efforts.
  • It also gave money to the Texas GOP, which has been passing restrictive voting laws for years.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this week, voting rights activists called for boycotts of Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Home Depot, blasting the Georgia-based companies for not doing enough to oppose a controversial new state law that they condemned as voter suppression.

While all three issued generic statements in support of voting rights, critics accused the multibillion-dollar corporations, which have massive influence in national- and state-level politics, of failing to back up those words with actions – or their pocketbooks.

As Republican-led legislatures advance similar bills in Texas and other states, some companies have tried to get ahead of the backlash by issuing statements condemning efforts to restrict voting rights.

But many have a poor track record when it comes to supporting the lawmakers behind those efforts.

Read more: How Black Americans still face disproportionate barriers to the ballot box in 2020

More than 70 Black business leaders, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon all came out with statements opposing bills like the one Georgia passed, as did Amazon.

“It has been fifty-six years since the Voting Rights Act became law, yet efforts to disenfranchise Black people and other minorities continue to this day. The ability to vote is one of the most prized fundamental rights in our American democracy, and Amazon supports policies that protect and expand those rights,” Amazon PR and public policy chief Jay Carney said in a statement on Twitter.

Carney, who previously worked as President Barack Obama’s press secretary, praised efforts to expand voting rights in Virginia, where Amazon has a major presence and therefore plenty of reasons to stay in the good graces of its Democratic governor and state legislature.

“We oppose efforts in other states aimed at restricting the ability of Americans to vote,” Carney added.

But that’s not quite accurate, at least in terms of which politicians Amazon has supported. (Amazon did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story).

Amazon spent $18.7 million on lobbying last year, an increase of 30% since 2018, making it the biggest spender in the US other than Facebook. Those expenditures help Amazon convince current members of Congress to pass laws that will benefit its business, like tax cuts and subsidies or bigger budgets for the government agencies it contracts with.

The company also gives money to congressional members and candidates to try to keep friendlier lawmakers in power or force unfriendly ones out. Amazon does that through its corporate Political Action Committee, which spent $1.9 million during the 2019-2020 election cycle alone, according to Insider’s analysis of Federal Election Commission data via Open Secrets.

Of the $1.3 million that Amazon’s PAC gave to individuals, $471,000 went to lawmakers who voted against the For the People Act, which would expand access to the ballot box, voter registration opportunities, and mail-in and early voting, as well as creating increased transparency in the US’ campaign finance system.

And many of those lawmakers have a long history of opposing efforts to expand voting rights, both at the federal and state level.

Of the 186 Republican House members who voted in 2019 against restoring key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which would have made it harder for states like Georgia to pass voter suppression laws, Amazon supported 143 members, giving them a total of $510,000.

Just last May, California Rep. Darrell Issa sued the state for sending mail-in ballots to residents so they could vote safely during the pandemic. Amazon gave Issa $5,000 last election cycle.

According to data from the Texas Ethics Commission, Amazon also gave $15,000 last year to Republican lawmakers in the state, despite years of the party passing notoriously restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws.

Voting rights have been a hyperpartisan issue for years, with Republicans arguing that restrictive voting rules are needed to prevent widespread fraud. But independent experts within and outside of the US have proved dozens of times that fraud is extremely rare and has never affected the outcome of an election and that bills restricting voting rights disproportionately impact people of color.

Yet Amazon has continued to support GOP lawmakers who even opposed Congress’ last successful bipartisan voting rights law in 2002, the Help America Vote Act. Amazon gave a combined $53,500 to 12 of the members who fought that effort and are still in Congress over the past two years.

Following the attempted insurrection on January 6, civil rights activists and consumers pressured companies to stop financially supporting the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying states’ Electoral College results.

Dozens did, including Amazon, which had given $253,500 to 76 of those members, though it only promised to “suspend” those contributions, leaving the door open for the company to potentially resume its support closer to the 2022 congressional races.

Whether Amazon stands by its promise to oppose efforts “aimed at restricting the ability of Americans to vote” remains to be seen. But its spending record so far shows that it has often supported the lawmakers behind those exact efforts.

Read more: AT&T and Cigna are funding Republican groups led by election objectors they had promised to stop supporting

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Microsoft president Brad Smith candidly confesses politics are pay-to-play in response to criticism over the company’s donations to lawmakers who objected to US election results

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Microsoft president Brad Smith.

Microsoft CEO Brad Smith offered his employees a candid take this week on why the company gives money to politicians, shedding light on the heated debate over how corporate America should respond to GOP-led efforts to overturn the results of the US presidential election.

“It plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works,” Smith said, according to CNBC. “Politicians in the United States have events, they have weekend retreats, you have to write a check and then you’re invited and participate.”

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

After 147 Republican members of Congress challenged states’ Electoral College votes earlier this month, on the same day protesters violently broke into the US Capitol in a deadly riot, America’s biggest companies – and political spenders – faced criticism for their financial support of the lawmakers who had for months undermined confidence in the election.

One of those companies was Microsoft, which has given more than $178,000 to 61 those lawmakers through its political action committee, MSPAC, during the latest election cycles – the third-most among S&P 500 companies.

Read more: Joe Biden touts transparency, but his presidential inauguration spending remains a money mystery as organizers won’t disclose who’s cashing in

Microsoft temporarily paused all of its MSPAC contributions following pushback from employees. But as critics noted, the company hasn’t specifically committed to stop funding the lawmakers who attempted to overturn the election results – despite Smith signing a letter denouncing those efforts – effectively penalizing lawmakers who upheld the principles espoused in the letter.

Smith argued to employees on Thursday that the contributions are still important because they get Microsoft’s lobbyists access to politicians, which helps them build relationships so the lawmakers are more receptive when Microsoft wants to lobby them on an issue.

“If you work in the government affairs team in the United States, you spend your weekends going to these events; you spend your evenings going to these dinners, and the reason you go is because the PAC writes a check,” Smith said, according to CNBC.

Smith added that the relationships built at these events make it more likely lawmakers will be receptive when he calls them to ask for their help on employees’ immigration cases, as well as “issues around national security, or privacy, or procurement reform. Or the tax issues our finance team manages.”

However, Smith didn’t acknowledge contributions that companies give to candidates who are up for election and depend on those contributions to help them get – or stay – in power. In 2020 alone, Microsoft gave $88,000 to lawmakers up for election who eventually objected to Electoral College results.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: GitHub is facing employee backlash after the firing of a Jewish employee who suggested ‘Nazis are about’ on the day of the US Capitol siege

Microsoft has come under fire from employees over its political support and government work before, and briefly paused its contributions in 2019 before quietly resuming them again just months later, according to Geekwire.

Smith’s comments provided a more direct acknowledgment than most executives typically give about how American politics are often “pay-to-play” – particularly following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision inĀ Citizens United that allowed companies to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence politics.

But they also came at a time when companies are facing unprecedented pressure from employees, customers, and shareholders, to rethink which candidates they support, who they do business with, and the positions they take on important national issues.

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