Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

Pride Month Exposes More Flaws in Corporate Political Donations

By Tina Casey
Pride Month

The failed insurrection of January 6 exposed shortcomings in the ratings systems that measure corporate social responsibility, and now a new rash of anti-trans legislation has demonstrated additional flaws. The normal conventions of responsible corporate behavior are dangerously weak when civil rights, human rights and democracy itself are under attack from the very lawmakers who are supposed to protect and defend national principles of justice and equality. This year’s Pride Month revelations amplify those concerns.

A crack in the corporate social responsibility movement

TriplePundit and other media noted the curious lack of a strong corporate response following the January 6 attack on the Capitol Building.

After all, the failed insurrection was an organized attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of power outlined in the Constitution, with intent to murder the former vice president and prevent President-elect Joe Biden from taking office. One would think that the corporate defenders of democracy would rise up with one voice to demand justice, retribution and accountability from all of those responsible.

Instead, the initial response seemed weak and uncoordinated. Following January 6, a smattering of business leaders did pledge to stop financial support for the 147 Republican members of Congress who publicly supported the insurrection, when they voted against the Electoral College results on the evening of January 6.

However, within just a few weeks, even that tepid show of spine seemed to wither on the vine.

Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.

The consequences of that lost opportunity for leadership are still rippling out. Those 147 Republican members of Congress used their votes to provide the false imprimatur of Constitutional legitimacy on a violent overthrow of the federal government. They opened the door for a flood of voter suppression bills in almost every state, aimed primarily at Democratic-leaning voters and supported almost exclusively by Republican legislators and governors.

Name-checking the insurrection supporters

However, it now appears that the corporate movement to exercise the power of the purse has had a greater impact than the initial response suggested.

Independent journalist Judd Legum has been tracking corporate donations to the 147 insurrection enablers following the events of January 6, through his Popular Information newsletter. In April, he observed that the corporate financial response could be stronger than first thought.

Among 170 companies that publicly pledged to withhold PAC donations to the 147 insurrection supporters in Congress, Legum found that “nearly all” kept their word.

“Further, the vast majority of other corporations — corporations who said they were reconsidering their PAC donations after January 6 or said nothing at all — withheld donations to the 147 Republican objectors,” Legum also reported. “There were 1100 individual corporate PACs that donated to the 147 objectors last cycle, according to Maplight. By comparison, only around 70 individual corporate PACs contributed to the objectors in the first three months of 2021.”

As Legum noted, the financial impact was significant. Media-savvy Republican office holders like Marjorie Taylor Greene were able to offset the loss of corporate funds by soliciting more small donors, but many others could not.

Pride Month and the media connection

To some extent, the loss of corporate dollars and the increased reliance on small donors may be responsible for the ginning up of GOP appeals to base issues this year. In addition to the voter suppression trend, recent months have seen a backlash against the fact-based 1619 Project and the red herring of critical race theory.

The LGBTQ equality movement has also felt the impact, partly in the form of new anti-trans legislation targeting children’s sports.

In that regard, corporate political donors could take a page from the insurrection response. They could enforce financial consequences on legislators who promote anti-trans bills.

According to Legum’s latest reporting, the impact would be significant.

Last week, Legum issued a detailed report on corporations that earned a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index, but which have donated significant sums to lawmakers who support anti-trans legislation or have garnered a zero rating from the latest Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional scorecard.

“This month, corporations are plastering their social media avatars with rainbows, sponsoring Pride parades, and declaring their unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ community. Many of these companies, however, are spending millions supporting the campaigns of anti-gay politicians at the federal and state level,” Legum wrote.

In terms of most dollars donated, Legum’s list of the top 25 is headed by Comcast/NBC Universal, followed by AT&T, Home Depot, UPS, Deloitte, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Verizon, UnitedHealth Group, Google, Amazon, General Motors, Walmart, Cigna, Ford, Anthem, JPMorgan, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, Wells Fargo, Walgreens and the heath care firm McKesson.

The need for an American democracy index

Political observers are concerned that the long-term impact of Republican voter suppression tactics will exacerbate undemocratic features built into the U.S. Electoral College system. The Electoral College was a Constitutional compromise designed to provide a protection for slave-holding states against a direct popular vote. As it happens, the electoral system has only installed the loser of the popular vote a handful of times in U.S. history. However, in a disturbing trend, two of those times occurred just within recent years, among the two most recent Republican presidents. That includes former President Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016 by a margin of 2.68 million.

New voter suppression laws could ensure that trend becomes a permanent condition, resulting in an endless enshrinement of Republican priorities at the federal level that support and amplify state-based efforts to tear down the hard-won victories on LGBTQ issues, shred the rights of trans youth, and reduce a significant part of the nation’s population to the status of fund-raising pawns for politicians that have lost their corporate sponsors.

Pulling the corporate money rug out under anti-LGBTQ politicians is just the first step for business leaders who profess to care about human rights and events such as Pride Month. What is needed now is a new democracy index that recognizes corporate leaders who provide sharp, aggressive advocacy and more financial support in the fight for voting rights and equal rights for all.

Image credit: Courtney Coles/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey