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- Telecom provider AT&T was the single largest corporate donor to Texas lawmakers who sponsored or cosponsored Senate Bill 8, according to a report.
From 2020 to 2021, dozens of companies in the top tier of the Fortune 500 funneled $5.9 million into the campaigns of Texas lawmakers who sponsored or cosponsored Senate Bill 8, according to research by UltraViolet, a group that advocates against sexism in politics and culture.
The seven largest of those 86 donors, which range from Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate to oil company Chevron, made up nearly $1.1 million of the total. Dallas-based AT&T dug the deepest, doling out $291,042 to sponsors and co-sponsors of the legislation, which effectively bans abortion at six weeks — even in cases of rape and incest.
“Consumers have a lot of power here,” said Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns for UltraViolet. “They have a lot of options when it comes to letting these corporations know that they’re aware where their dollars are going.”
Those outraged about SB 8’s passage can send a strong signal by contacting companies that funded the law’s backers and asking executives to cut off the flow of cash, Spoo said. Consumers can also cancel services with those firms or boycott their products.
If someone chooses the latter option, Spoo said the decision will have the biggest impact if they reach out to the company and be specific about the reason they’re no longer willing to do business with them.
Due to the scope of its campaign contributions, UltraViolet specifically targeted AT&T prior to the passage of SB 8 and asked — to no avail — to meet and discuss its political spending. Meanwhile, the advocacy group has posted an online petition asking the company to stop donating to politicians who support abortion bans.
The petition is accessible at act.weareultraviolet.org/sign/HB1515_ATT/.
UltraViolet’s numbers show that AT&T’s massive contributions to the Texas Legislature over the past two years were heavily skewed toward anti-abortion lawmakers, including Republican State Sens. Jane Nelson, Bryan Hughes and Larry Taylor, whom Spoo accused of pushing a “radical, anti-woman agenda.”
The telecom provider, which employs tens of thousands of people in Texas, didn’t respond to the Current’s request for comment.
“While AT&T may say that there’s a business justification for making those contributions, those same people are passing laws that directly harm their workers’ and consumers’ livelihoods and bodily autonomy,” Spoo said. “That legislative lineage cannot be ignored.”
Speaking with cash
The cancellation of cell phone contracts over Texas’ abortion law may not seem like much to a company that reported global revenues of $172 billion last year. But Spoo said polling shows that younger consumers in particular give weight to a company’s political stance when making buying decisions.
About two-thirds of millennials say they have boycotted a brand that took the opposing stance on an issue they feel strongly about, and 62% favor products that align with their political and social beliefs, according to a 2020 survey by New York-based public relations firm 5WPR.
Pulling back the curtain on AT&T’s political contributions could also harm its ability to recruit workers. The company has long prided itself on workforce diversity, and critics point out that Texas’ abortion ban will likely have the most profound effect on women of color.
Polling also suggests abortion rights play into peoples’ expectations about their employers.
A 2018 survey by NARAL Pro-Choice America and The Harris Poll found that 67% of Americans said it’s at least somewhat important for their employer to take a stand on reproductive freedom. About 1 in 4 in the survey said it’s extremely important.
Spoo said she hopes UltraViolet’s research helps both consumers and job seekers make informed decisions as Texas cuts off reproductive health choices for its residents.
“All of this is about educating people so they can make the best choices with their dollars,” she said.
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