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

amazon jeff bezos white house
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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AT&T and Cigna are funding Republican groups led by election objectors they had promised to stop supporting

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (center) and Josh Hawley (top) led the GOP effort to challenge Electoral College votes on January 6, which was interrupted as Trump supporters attempted to violently overturn Biden's victory.
  • AT&T and Cigna gave money to groups run by the GOP election objectors they pledged to stop supporting, Popular Information reported.
  • Some companies paused certain PAC contributions after GOP efforts to overturn Biden’s victory led to violence.
  • Here’s how much each S&P 500 corporate PAC had given – and if they’ve paused or resumed contributions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

AT&T and Cigna both gave money last month to groups overseen by Republican lawmakers who sought to overturn the US presidential election results in January, despite earlier promises to pause support for those lawmakers, Popular Information’s Jedd Legum reported Friday.

After violent pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the GOP’s last-ditch effort to invalidate states’ Electoral College results, companies faced intense public criticism over their financial support of the 147 Republican members of Congress who backed the effort.

Amid the backlash, dozens of major corporations said they would pause contributions and reevaluate how they determine which lawmakers to support.

Yet barely a month later, AT&T and Cigna gave contributions to Republican groups led by – and benefitting – those same lawmakers.

AT&T’s Political Action Committee (PAC), just 35 days after pausing contributions to the 147 election objectors, gave $5,000 to the House Conservative Fund in February, according to Legum. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against certifying Electoral College results, sits on the fund’s executive committee – while other objectors are among its membership.

“Our employee PACs continue to adhere to their policy adopted on January 11 of suspending contributions to campaign committees of members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes. Our employee PACs did not adopt a policy to halt contributions to Democratic and Republican multi-candidate PACs, however,” an AT&T spokesperson told Insider in a statement.

They added that while the contribution “was not intended to circumvent the current suspension policy regarding individual campaigns,” the PAC “is requesting that none of its contribution to the House Conservative Fund or to any other multi-candidate PAC go to any member of congress who objected to the Electoral College votes.”

“Going forward, our employee PACs will begin reviewing all multi-candidate PAC contributions for consistency with the policy on individual campaign contributions,” the spokesperson said.

Insider could not immediately confirm whether AT&T’s PAC was aware of Rep. Johnson’s connection to the House Conservative Fund when it made the contribution or when the PAC requested that the funds not benefit him or other objectors.

Cigna, which had said it would “discontinue support of any elected official who encouraged or supported violence, or otherwise hindered a peaceful transition of power,” continued that support just 22 days later by giving $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Legum reported. The NRSC is chaired by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, another election objector.

Cigna did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Political Action Committees backed by S&P 500 companies gave more than $23 million to the 147 GOP election objectors during the most recent campaign cycles (2020 for House members; 2016 and 2018 for senators), according to an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics, from activists to shareholders to other executives, have argued the contributions helped those lawmakers get elected and stay in power, giving them the platform they used to undermine voters’ faith in the election (which Trump’s former top cybersecurity official called “the most secure in American history“).

Read more: Democrats are plotting the death – and rebirth – of a hamstrung Federal Election Commission now that they’ll control the White House and both chambers of Congress

Following reporting from Popular Information and other media outlets, many companies began rethinking their political contributions.

Companies’ commitments varied widely, however.

Few have permanently blacklisted election objectors, and as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the largest contributions typically happen right before, not after elections, leaving the door open for companies to resume their support once the public’s attention has turned elsewhere – an argument bolstered by AT&T and Cigna’s recent contributions.

Other companies paused all PAC contributions, potentially allowing them to benefit from the positive PR without having to explicitly condemn – or risk alienating – more than half of the Republicans in Congress.

Still, dozens issued public statements or internal memos announcing they would pause contributions while reevaluating how they use their money to influence politics.

Here’s a list of the S&P 500 companies – some of the largest and most influential businesses in the US – how much they gave to the 147 election objectors in the latest election cycles through their corporate PACs, and whether they’ve pulled (or resumed) their support.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that AT&T’s employee PAC had violated its policy, announced January 11, that it would “suspend contributions to members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes,” by giving to a multi-candidate fund that includes such members. AT&T’s PAC did not adopt a policy to suspend contributions to multi-candidate groups, a spokesperson said.

Do you work for one of these companies and have information about how they’re responding to recent events? We’d love to hear how they’re navigating the current political landscape. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal ( +1 503-319-3213 ), email (tsonnemaker@insider.com), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please.

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AT&T, Cigna abandon promises to stop financing Republicans who voted to overturn the election

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (center) and Josh Hawley (top) led the GOP effort to challenge Electoral College votes on January 6, which was interrupted as Trump supporters attempted to violently overturn Biden's victory.
  • AT&T and Cigna have resumed funding GOP election objectors, Popular Information reported Friday.
  • Some companies paused PAC contributions after GOP efforts to overturn Biden’s victory led to violence.
  • Here’s how much each S&P 500 corporate PAC had given – and if they’ve paused or resumed contributions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

AT&T and Cigna both gave money last month to groups overseen by Republican lawmakers who sought to overturn the US presidential election results in January, contradicting the companies’ earlier promises, Popular Information’s Jedd Legum reported Friday.

After violent pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the GOP’s last-ditch effort to invalidate states’ Electoral College results, companies faced intense public criticism over their financial support of the 147 Republican members of Congress who backed the effort.

Amid the backlash, dozens of major corporations said they would pause contributions and reevaluate how they determine which lawmakers to support.

Yet barely a month later, AT&T and Cigna have apparently determined that some of those lawmakers are once again deserving of support.

AT&T and Cigna did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

AT&T’s Political Action Committee (PAC), just 35 days after pausing contibutions to the 147 election objectors, gave $5,000 to the Republican Study Committee in February, according to Legum. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against certifying Electoral College results, sits on the RSC’s executive committee.

Cigna, which had said it would “discontinue support of any elected official who encouraged or supported violence, or otherwise hindered a peaceful transition of power,” continued that support just 22 days later by giving $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Legum reported. The NRSC is chaired by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, another election objector.

Political Action Committees backed by S&P 500 companies gave more than $23 million to the 147 GOP election objectors during the most recent campaign cycles (2020 for House members; 2016 and 2018 for senators), according to an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics, from activists to shareholders to other executives, have argued the contributions helped those lawmakers get elected and stay in power, giving them the platform they used to undermine voters’ faith in the election (which Trump’s former top cybersecurity official called “the most secure in American history“).

Read more: Democrats are plotting the death – and rebirth – of a hamstrung Federal Election Commission now that they’ll control the White House and both chambers of Congress

Following reporting from Popular Information and other media outlets, many companies began rethinking their political contributions.

Companies’ commitments varied widely, however.

Few have permanently blacklisted election objectors, and as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the largest contributions typically happen right before, not after elections, leaving the door open for companies to resume their support once the public’s attention has turned elsewhere – an argument bolstered by AT&T and Cigna’s recent contributions.

Other companies paused all PAC contributions, potentially allowing them to benefit from the positive PR without having to explicitly condemn – or risk alienating – more than half of the Republicans in Congress.

Still, dozens issued public statements or internal memos announcing they would pause contributions while reevaluating how they use their money to influence politics.

Here’s a list of the S&P 500 companies – some of the largest and most influential businesses in the US – how much they gave to the 147 election objectors in the latest election cycles through their corporate PACs, and whether they’ve pulled (or resumed) their support.

Do you work for one of these companies and have information about how they’re responding to recent events? We’d love to hear how they’re navigating the current political landscape. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal ( +1 503-319-3213 ), email (tsonnemaker@insider.com), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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

microsoft brad smith
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 in 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.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Corporate America is pausing its financial support for the 147 GOP lawmakers who challenged Biden’s victory. Here are all the S&P 500 companies who gave them money – and then stopped.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (center) and Josh Hawley (top) led the GOP effort to challenge Electoral College votes on January 6, which was interrupted as Trump supporters attempted to violently overturn Biden's victory.
  • S&P 500 companies gave $23 million to the 147 GOP lawmakers who contested Electoral College results.
  • After GOP efforts to overturn Biden’s victory led to violence, some companies paused their support.
  • Here’s a list of how much each corporate PAC had given and whether they’ve paused contributions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On January 6, Congress convened a joint session to formally certify President Joseph Biden’s Electoral College victory, but it was quickly interrupted by a group of Republican objectors who argued, based on little more than conspiracy theories, that Congress shouldn’t proceed because there had been widespread election fraud.

In total, 147 Republicans – roughly 55% of the GOP lawmakers in Congress – objected to certifying the results of at least one state’s Electoral College vote.

But that long-shot effort to overturn democratic election results was itself interrupted by pro-Trump rioters who – citing the same election fraud conspiracies – stormed the US Capitol building in an attempt to violently keep Trump in power, forcing members of Congress to evacuate, leaving five dead and dozens injured.

In the wake of the failed insurrection, corporate America found itself facing backlash for its extensive financial support of Trump and the lawmakers whose repeated amplification of election fraud conspiracies helped fuel the violence.

Political Action Committees backed by S&P 500 companies gave more than $23 million to the 147 GOP election objectors during the most recent campaign cycles (2020 for House members; 2016 and 2018 for senators), according to an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics, from activists to shareholders to other executives, have argued the contributions helped those lawmakers get elected and stay in power, giving them the platform they used to undermine voters’ faith in the election (which Trump’s former top cybersecurity official called “the most secure in American history“).

Read more: Democrats are plotting the death – and rebirth – of a hamstrung Federal Election Commission now that they’ll control the White House and both chambers of Congress

But following reporting from Popular Information and other media outlets, many companies began rethinking their political contributions.

Companies’ commitments have varied widely, however.

Few have permanently blacklisted election objectors, and as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the largest contributions typically happen right before, not after elections, leaving the door open for companies to resume their support once the public’s attention has turned elsewhere. Others have paused all PAC contributions, potentially allowing them to benefit from the positive PR without having to explicitly condemn – or risk alienating – more than half of the Republicans in Congress.

Still, dozens have issued public statements or internal memos announcing they will at least pause contributions while they reevaluate how they use their money to influence politics.

Here’s a list of the S&P 500 companies – some of the largest and most influential businesses in the US – how much they gave to the 147 election objectors in the latest election cycles through their corporate PACs, and whether they’ve pulled their support.

Do you work for one of these companies and have information about how they’re responding to recent events? We’d love to hear how they’re navigating the current political landscape. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal ( +1 503-319-3213 ), email (tsonnemaker@insider.com), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please. 

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Expensify CEO slams corporate America’s response to the Capitol riots: ‘Defending the free market does not mean standing by as people destroy it’

David_Barrett_Expensify_BI
David Barrett.

  • Expensify CEO David Barrett slammed corporate America’s response to the attacks on the US Capitol.
  • Barrett told Insider that defending free markets requires first defending democracy.
  • He also told Protocol most CEOs are “cowards” for refusing to take those stands.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As more companies publicly condemn the violent attacks on the US Capitol and pause their financial support for the lawmakers who helped fuel an attempted insurrection, Expensify CEO David Barrett has harsh words for the holdouts.

“Most CEOs, it’s not that they’re bad people, they’re just cowards. They’re like, ‘yeah, I would like to take a stand, but I can’t because of investors, customers and things like this,'” he told Protocol in an interview Tuesday.

“It basically comes down to, ‘I care more about hitting the next quarter results than preventing a civil war,’ which is so f—ed up. They’re more afraid of their investors than they are of militants,” Barrett said, according to Protocol.

Barrett gained attention in October when he emailed Expensify’s 10 million customers urging them to vote for then-candidate Joe Biden, and defending the move by saying: “Expensify depends on a functioning society and economy; not many expense reports get filed during a civil war.”

Read more: ‘Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy’: Expensify’s CEO tells us why the company emailed 10 million customers urging them to vote for Biden

The move stood in stark contrast to companies like Facebook, Google, and Coinbase that had sought to crack down on political discussions internally.

But Barrett told Insider in an interview Tuesday that when it comes to actions as extreme as the attempted insurrection earlier this month by supporters of President Donald Trump, or Republican lawmakers’ attempts to overturn democratic election results, “we’re all obligated to step in.”

That’s especially the case for business leaders, he added, arguing that their companies depend on free markets to be successful and free markets depend on a functioning democracy.

“It’s important for us to step in to defend the pillars of democracy – free speech, access to information, access to services, fair voting, and things like this – in order to maintain that free market,” he said. “We need to defend the free market itself, which cannot be separated from democracy, but defending the free market does not mean standing by as people destroy it.”

Barrett praised companies’ decisions to pause their political contributions to the 147 Republicans who tried to challenge the Electoral College results, but added that those actions only matter if they’re “sustained.”

“Anyone who voted against certifying the results should probably be blacklisted from politics … like, you can’t be part of a democracy and then openly despise it,” he said. “We need to make it overwhelmingly clear to our elected leaders that that is unacceptable. And I think that business owners, CEOs, business leaders, employees, everyone needs to speak with a united voice that democracy is more important than anything else.”

While dozens of major corporations have suspended those political contributions, several have cut all ties to Trump, and one even called on Vice President Mike Pence to remove Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, few companies have committed to permanently cutting financial ties with anti-democratic lawmakers.

Read the original article on Business Insider