A Company Backs a Cause. It Funds a Politician Who Doesn’t. What Gives?

Andrew Ross Sorkin, in today’s NYTimes DealBook, explores how and why corporations’ public stance on issues they ostensibly care about is not reflected in their political donations:

Walmart calls its employees “heroes” for putting their health at risk to work during the pandemic. AT&T champions L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Microsoft is undertaking one of the country’s most ambitious corporate efforts to eliminate its carbon emissions.

At a time when Corporate America is speaking up on some of the most important issues of our time, there is a contradiction between companies’ words today and the role they played in helping create the moment we find ourselves in.

An examination of political spending over the past decade shows how those companies — and dozens of other Fortune 500 corporations — quietly funded political efforts that are antithetical to their public stances. They financed state attorneys general seeking to undo the Affordable Care Act, which has provided health insurance for millions of Americans during the pandemic; they provided funds that backed local legislators who tried to roll back L.G.B.T.Q. rights; and they gave money that supported candidates challenging federal climate change initiatives.

Uniquely, public companies are the biggest benefactors of key political committees supporting the campaigns, donating more than individuals or other groups…

…Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability, said that “companies aren’t paying attention — they give to these groups and that’s essentially where their due diligence stops.” The data shows that some of the biggest companies in the nation have funded “severe restrictions on or prohibitions of abortions, the rolling back of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, the filing of lawsuits challenging federal climate change initiatives, and gerrymandering, some of it racially motivated,” all while publicly supporting the opposite, he adds.

In truth, the donations — often under seven figures — are small in relation to the spending power of companies like Microsoft or Walmart. But this money can have an outsize influence on state-level politics, especially when pooled among many companies.

The result is the election of politicians who can change the rules for everyone in a state, including on the issues about which companies say they care about. At minimum, this risks undermining the time, effort and money that companies devote to the environment, working conditions or other causes. Even worse, it raises questions about how genuinely those companies value the issues they say they do.

Read the entire article here