Good column by Andrew Sorkin in the New York Times that highlights if not intentional corporate hypocrisy, the practical equivalent.
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.
The anecdotal lead of the article is Walmart and its lauding of its “heroic” employees. The photo illustration online is Mike Pence visiting a Walmart facility. Walmart, the article notes, gives money to the Republican Attorneys General Association (Leslie Rutledge is a former president), which among other adventures has members leading the fight to kill the Affordable Care Act, roll back environmental protection, fight gay rights and so forth.
The article names other corporate-giving examples, some direct to politicians, some not. Much of this money is channeled — laundered you might say — through 527 organizations, nonprofits that can give as they please in the organization’s name without a direct link to the giver. Such groups have played major roles in recent races for the Arkansas Supreme Court. Dark corporate money won the last contest by electing the wife of the Republican state chair, Doyle Webb. Sorkin writes:
The numbers tell the story: Of the $1.3 billion raised over the past decade by the Democratic and Republican governors associations, state legislative campaign committees and attorneys general associations, 46 percent — or nearly $600 million — came from public companies and their trade associations, far more than the 22 percent share from individuals and 16 percent from private companies, according to the Center for Political Accountability. Two-thirds of the corporate and trade association money, around $390 million, went to Republican-affiliated groups.
This story appears coincidentally with news today from the Northwest Arkansas Council, the influential “economic development” organization based in Springdale that is funded by such corporate giants as Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt and Simmons Foods. It is unavoidably political. Former Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt was a long-time chairman. It works to get government money for projects that benefit the region (and thus the corporations based there) as well as policies that are helpful to business. Its individual members are active in political spending. For example: $10 million worth in state-level giving around the country over the last 21 years by Jim Walton of Walmart and Arvest, according to a compilation by Follow the Money.
Today the Council announced a pledge “to address systemic racism and promote a more equitable and inclusive Northwest Arkansas region.”
That’s good. Guiding principles include these:
Supporting administrative and legislative measures that advance equality and justice and further the acceptance and advancement of all individuals, regardless of personal demographics including race, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
Count me in. But …
A good place to start to sell this message would be with the Northwest Arkansas legislators who wouldn’t stand for diversity on the UA campus or allow Fayetteville to pass a civil rights ordinance to protect LGBT citizens. Or legislators who craft laws to suppress votes by poor and minority citizens. Or legislators intent on punishing undocumented immigrants, even children who’ve known no country but the United States. Or politicians such as the attorney general or candidates for governor for their embrace of such policies. Or politicians who cover for unsafe workplaces heavily staffed by immigrant laborers. A certain Northwest Arkansas signatory to this pledge also played a role in the effort that led to the ouster of the popularly elected majority-black Little Rock school board and the continuing damage to the majority-black district by the Hutchinson administration.
The Council is encouraging businesses to take the pledge and display their commitment on signs in their buildings. This can’t possibly hurt.
But I’d suggest some other practical strategies to those involved. Stop giving money to candidates or organizations that support or promote ideals inimical to your pledge. Get on the phone to legislators who fall short of some of the guiding principles. Need an idea for where to start? How about Bart Hester? He hangs in Cave Springs.