Some US Companies Decry Voter Suppression Laws While Funding Their Sponsors

In April 2021, as Republican-controlled states began passing bills that will restrict voting in upcoming elections, cable and media giant Comcast put out a statement declaring its opposition to the measures.

“We believe that all Americans should enjoy equitable access to secure elections and we have long supported and promoted voter education, registration and participation campaigns across the country to achieve that goal,” the company said in a statement it provided to Deadline. “Efforts to limit or impede access to this vital constitutional right for any citizen are not consistent with our values.”

Comcast and its Political Action Committees made donations to several Republican lawmakers over the next months. These bills were passed into law last year. According to a recent analysis of the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 19 states have passed 33 laws that further restrict voting access in 2021.

On October 15, Comcast donated $1,000 to Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley, the sole sponsor of SB 90, a 48-page bill that, among other measures, makes it a misdemeanor to give water — or anything else — to people waiting in line to vote in the sweltering Florida heat, similar to a restriction that first appeared in Georgia Republicans’ suppression bill. Baxter’s bill eliminates 24/7 ballot drop boxes and requires such boxes to be monitored at all times and only available during in-person voting hours. It also requires voters seeking an absentee ballot to submit a driver’s license or Social Security number and requires voters to reapply for mail ballots more often, among its many other provisions that make voting more difficult.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Florida voters have filed a lawsuit to stop Baxley’s bill, which Gov. In May, DeSantis signed the bill into law. The lawsuit argues that the bill is designed to make it more difficult for seniors, minorities, and young people to vote and violates people’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

After it released its statement, Comcast made several additional donations to the voter suppression bill sponsoring organizations. SludgeThis was determined by reviewing donations to the Brennan Center sponsors of restrictive voting laws. In September, the company donated $1,000 to Alan Baker, Alabama Republican State Representative. This law reduces the time people have to request an absentee vote. It also donated to the sponsors of new Brennan Center-identified voter suppression laws in Utah, and Kansas.

Merck Pharmaceuticals signed a pro voting rights statement. It was published in the New York Times ad on April 14. “For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us,” the ad reads. “We call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans.”

After signing the ad, Merck donated $1,000 in September to Florida’s Baxley and $1,000 in October to Texas Republican State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, the primary sponsor of one of the state’s two new voter suppression laws and a cosponsor of the other one.

Kolkhorst’s bill, SB 1111, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB 1111 by Kolkhorst in June. It limits which addresses can be used to register to vote. This could prove difficult for homeless people or those who move frequently. The bill says that people can’t use addresses where they do not live full time, and it allows voting officials to demand voters show documents to prove their place of residence. Texans will not be able, with very few exceptions to this, to use commercial postal boxes as their registration address. Marc Elias, a Democratic attorney for Texas, strongly opposed this practice. saysIt is often used by churches to help homeless people register to vote.

Kolkhorst was also one of the 14 cosponsors of SB 1, an omnibus voter suppression law that bans drive-through voting and 24-hour voting locations, requires voters to provide driver’s license or Social Security numbers to request absentee ballots, prohibits election officials from proactively mailing out ballots, says poll watchers can not be denied “free movement” in polling places, and more. The Brennan Center is suing Gov. Abbott in an attempt to stop the law, which it says is “a reaction to Texas’s changing electorate, which is now more racially diverse and younger than ever before.”

JPMorgan Chase also donated $1,000 from its PAC for a Texas SB 1 cosponsor. Dawn Buckingham in September. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon released a statement in March saying that “as state capitals debate election laws, we believe voting must be accessible and equitable,” and that “We regularly encourage our employees to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and we stand against efforts that may prevent them from being able to do so.”

AT&T is another company whose political donations seem to contradict its public statements.

“We believe the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections,” reads an April statement from AT&T CEO John Stankey. “We are working together with other businesses through groups like the Business Roundtable to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote.”

In September, AT&T donated $1,000 to Alabama Republican Wes Allen, the chief sponsor of H.B. 285, a new state law that bans election officials from setting-up curbside voting, poll drop boxes, and putting voting machines outside of polling places. The company’s Oklahoma PAC also donated $2,500 that month to Oklahoma Senate Republican Majority Leader Kim David, the sponsor of a new state law that shortens the deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot from 7 days before an election to 15 days before the election, among other provisions.

AT&T and its PACs also donated $500 to Florida’s Baxley in March, after the senator had formally introduced his voter suppression bill, and made donations to sponsors of Brennan Center-identified restrictive voting laws in Utah and Kansas.

Other companies or organizations that donated to the Brennan Center-identified sponsors of state voter suppression measures, after publicly denouncing the same earlier this year, include General Motors (whose PACs contributed towards Democratic New York senators who cosponsored legislation that reduced the time frame for applying to for a mail in ballot) and Microsoft (which donated to a Kansas Republican congressman who sponsored a new law restricting mail-in vote).

AT&T, Merck, and Comcast did not respond to Sludge’s requests for comment on how their donations to the sponsors of voter suppression bills relate to their public expressions in favor of voting rights. JPMorgan Chase did not respond.