With Friends Like These: How Corporations are Betraying Our Trust and Undermining Our Rights
- The Republican lawmakers who enact regressive legislation, including anti-abortion trigger laws, are bankrolled by corporations like AT&T, Walmart, CVS, Citigroup, UPS, and others that we all patronize.
As I write this article just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the news about the 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who had to go to Indianapolis to receive abortion services is all over the media. The Wall Street Journal claimed the story was false as did many elected members of the Republican party. Within a couple of days, police in Columbus arrested the rapist who confessed to the crime. The Republican Attorney General of Indiana is launching an investigation against the doctor who carried out the procedure.
While the whole country is able to see the true color of the Republican party and its supporters in the media, it is not always clear as to who helps to get these people elected. A simple search on followthemoney.org shows that Todd Rokita, the Indiana Attorney General, received campaign contributions from many individual donors, corporations and PACs. Some of his top non-individual contributors are: The National Automobile Dealers Association, National Beer Wholesalers Association, AT&T, Eli Lilly, American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, American Dental Association, Caterpillar, and others.
I looked up who contributed to the campaign of Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, who claimed in a tweet that the story of the 10-year-old was a lie. It was surprising that some of the top non-individual contributors for him are the same as Rokita’s — National Automobile Dealers Association, National Beer Wholesalers Association, AT&T, along with Google, General Dynamics and many others. As a long-time customer of AT&T who has been perpetually frustrated as the monthly bill creeps up every few months, it all made sense. All the money that AT&T tricks us into paying goes to these politicians who are working to take away the basic rights of all women.
The 1973 Roe v Wade decision stood the test of time for nearly 50 years and suddenly the world around us is now a different place. The total impact of this change will not be clear for some time but the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has made its intentions clear. They will be dismantling a number of rights that we have taken for granted and they are particularly targeting communities who are not white men. All data shows that the majority of this country is still pro-choice. Naturally, whether one is directly affected or not, pro-choice folks are distraught, angry and in mourning. A sense of loss and agony has settled on us. It is even scarier to know that this onslaught of our basic rights will not stop here. The Republican party has made it clear that with every opportunity they get they will work on making abortion illegal, in individual states as well as nationally, by passing laws in statehouses and Congress.
The country is in a very different place than it was 50 years ago. The youth of this country are pro-choice and progressive by a huge margin. They are much more accepting of the diversity of race, culture, opinion, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. So, it would make sense for large corporations, who view this population as their current and future customers, to mirror the progressive views of the younger generation. On the surface, that seemed to be happening as many large and small companies announced that they will financially support their employees if someone were to travel to a different state for reproductive health treatments.
That sounds like a very good gesture and a good positive step. But upon digging a little deeper it also becomes clear that most of these moves are designed to get good press and publicity but are miniscule in comparison to the collective harm that the corporations are showering on us. It so happens that the same corporations who are publicizing the benefits that they would provide to individual employees are donating millions of dollars to the politicians who are passing laws to restrict access to women’s reproductive choice.
The Money Factor
An article in Business Insider provides the lay of the land in great detail. Over the last few years, 13 states have passed Trigger laws. “Trigger laws have been enacted in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. The laws impose statewide abortion bans, with very narrow exemptions, if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.”
The Republican lawmakers who passed these laws were bankrolled by companies such as AT&T, Walmart, CVS, Citigroup, UPS, and others. The companies spending the highest number of dollars include AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway, and others with AT&T leading the pack with the highest contribution. Of the companies that financially supported the lawmakers in all 13 states, AT&T again leads the pack but is closely followed by Walmart, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Johnson and Johnson.
It was particularly upsetting to see that General Motors, an iconic Detroit company, has supported these lawmakers in 11 of the 13 states. Amazon and Microsoft have taken the lead in publicly pledging to assist employees with travel expenses so they can access abortions, if needed. Yet Amazon and Microsoft have donated $205,900 and $95,500, respectively, to lawmakers behind state bans.
According to this same article, contributors from the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, including hospitals, drug companies, pharmacies, and medical associations, contributed $14.6 million to politicians behind trigger laws that could lead to criminal penalties for abortion providers in most trigger-law states. Among those contributors are companies that have marketed birth control — Pfizer gave about $341,000, and Merck, about $205,000. Isn’t it ironic and against their or own business interest to finance the passage of laws that could make their products illegal?
Florida is one of the states where abortion has not been completely banned but a very restrictive anti-abortion law has been passed. An article in the American Prospect says that in Florida, companies such as Disney, Comcast, and AT&T have announced they will offer travel support to their employees who seek abortion care. However, as it turns out, Disney donated $927,359.81 to anti-abortion lawmakers in Florida since 2020. Comcast has donated $393,000, and AT&T has donated $159,000. And they are not the only ones, others such NBC Universal, Verizon, Walgreens, and Zillow have donated to these lawmakers while offering paid abortion travel.
After the Supreme Court decision, many state attorneys general who are Democrats have promised not to enforce abortion restrictions within their states. Those who are running for re-election are being challenged by Republican candidates who have all vowed to enforce restrictive abortion laws and go after everyone who aids in the abortion process. These Republican candidates are being financially supported by groups such as RAGA (Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA)), a national political group that has already raised $17.7 million this election cycle from conservative “dark money” groups, corporations, and individuals to support Republican AG candidates.
Uber announced it would set up a legal defense fund to help its drivers who could be sued under the Texas abortion ban for transporting passengers. Within months of this announcement, the company gave $50,000 to RAGA. Other top corporate donors to RAGA include Comcast, AT&T, healthcare company Centene, and gaming company Caesars Entertainment, as well as trade groups like PhRMA, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. Online dating company Match Group and Citigroup both announced they would set up a fund to allow Texas employees to seek abortion care out of state. And they turned around and donated $137,000 and $75000 respectively to RAGA.
RAGA is holding an exclusive fundraising event in Florida this week for the Republican Attorneys General candidates. Their announced goal is to “help combat the Democrats’ pro-abortion agenda.” Guess which companies have registered with a minimum of 250K donation? See the picture here. It is quite depressing to see this long list of companies, all household names, enabling the destruction of so many rights for so many people in this country. I bet most of these companies have made statements supporting women’s rights and have programs internally to make themselves a more inclusive workplace. The irony is stunning. To a Michigander, it is particularly depressing to see GM prominently involved in this activity as well. It is particularly shameful to see a company with a female CEO working to take away the rights of women. Mary Barra needs to be asked about this.
What Can Be Done?
This sad state of affairs begs a very important question. Can we do something? Anything? Boycotting won’t work. It seems like every major corporation is involved. Most people will argue that “this is how business is done” or “companies give money to both sides” or “Hitler and the Nazis were also supported by many companies including IBM and Ford.” The both-side argument may be acceptable for fiscal, business or tax issues. But should we accept this logic for an issue that has to do with women’s autonomy over their own bodies, a fundamental right for over half the population? In this day and age of social media and information explosion, there is no better thing than shining bright lights on this hypocritical practice.
Journalists should be asking the CEOs of these companies about their motivation in supporting these politicians. Perhaps, progressive-minded employees who work for these companies could play a vital role. Although that carries its own risks. Companies could retaliate, just like we hear about retaliations when employees have organized to form Unions in certain corporations. Most of these companies have taken steps to become more inclusive, family-friendly, and welcoming of all kinds of diversity. It would be wonderful if employees, women and men who work in Google, AT&T and GM and all these other corporations start asking the tough questions of their employers. Shining bright lights from the outside and the inside will most certainly move some of them to think of abandoning their practices.
Armchair quarterbacks of today often like to say that if they were alive during the rise of Hitler, they would have opposed him. History shows that Hitler’s rise was especially aided by favorable media, supportive businesses, and most importantly, by well-meaning people who looked the other way. As William L. Shirer observed in “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” “No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the Democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler. The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it.”
We are starting to see the erosion of personal rights in this country. Elected leaders are openly talking of taking away more rights in the very near future. The Supreme Court is loaded and ready and is now as dangerous as the freely available guns in the hands of anyone and everyone. And on top of all these, businesses are trying to have it both ways. While businesses are getting favorable press announcing tacit support for employees who may need abortion services, they are providing exceptional and sustained financial support to the politicians who are passing legislation to take away our rights.
We should ask ourselves: does paying for a few individuals balance the harm caused to millions of women? Our choices are quite clear, we could be like the Germans who watched and aided the rise of Hitler by cheering from the sidelines until things got really out of hand or we could be like the Germans we wished were living at that time who should have stopped Hitler. And if you think Nazi Germany is old history just watch the videos of the Uvalde police force – good guys with guns — standing around while the gunman massacred those innocent children. Who would you rather be?
Shuvra Das is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He has lived in the greater Detroit area for over two and a half decades. He is interested in reading, writing, photography, travel, theater, and politics. He is a founder-member of SAMOSA (South Asians of Michigan Organizing for Serious Action), a grassroots organization in Michigan that works on making South Asians a stronger presence in the American political process.