The Georgia legislators pushing voter suppression bills are backed by millions in corporate cash

A billboard in Atlanta, sponsored by Coca-Cola, honoring the life of Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon who fought to expand voting rights. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Following surprise losses in November and January, Republican legislators in Georgia are aggressively pushing legislation to restrict voting before the next election. The purpose of these bills is both to validate Trump's false claims of electoral fraud and to make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning constituencies, particularly communities of color, to cast their ballots in the next election. An investigation by Popular Information, encompassing thousands of Georgia campaign finance records filed over the last three years, reveals that the Republican elected officials sponsoring these bills are backed by millions in corporate donations. 

There are a slew of bills that have been introduced in the Georgia legislature to restrict voting, but two have significant momentum. The Georgia General Assembly approved House Bill 531 on Monday. That bill would impose an array of new restrictions on voting, including limiting the use of drop boxes to return ballots, requiring a photo ID to return an absentee ballot, and limiting opportunities for early voting, particularly on weekends. 

The Georgia Senate is considering its own legislation, Senate Bill 241. The Senate legislation shares many of the provisions with the House bill, and also eliminates no excuse mail-in voting — which has been available since 2005. Instead, mail-in voting would only be allowed in limited circumstances, such as physical disability or travel. 

Nsé Ufot, a voting rights advocate and CEO of The New Georgia Project, told Popular Information that both of these bills would significantly suppress voting in Georgia — especially among communities of color. Both bills "would have wiped out the electoral margins that we saw in November," Ufot said. She said the bills were "targeted at Black voters," because they restrict voting in a way that would disproportionately impact the Black community. 

Yet the sponsors of these bills are supported by corporations that publicly embrace voting rights. For example, Coca-Cola, through its Sprite brand, ran a series of ads prior to the 2020 election stressing the importance of voting in the Black community. "Sprite is committed to supporting young Black creators & artists and the reasons why they vote," one ad said. 

Another Sprite ad encourages voters to "VOTE EARLY" or "VOTE BY MAIL" — two options that would be significantly more difficult under the bills advancing in the Georgia legislature. Yet, since 2018, Coca-Cola has donated $34,750 to the sponsors of both pieces of legislation to restrict voting.

For example, Coca-Cola has donated $2,000 to Georgia Senator Brandon Beach, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 241. In December, Beach signed onto a brief submitted to the Supreme Court that argued that all votes in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin should be thrown out. Beach tweeted that the brief, filed in support of litigation brought by the State of Texas and based on Trump's false claims of voter fraud, had his "full support." 

Overall, 14 co-sponsors of the legislation to restrict voting in Georgia signed on to this brief. 

Beach also posted videos of himself promoting debunked claims that the election was stolen from Trump. "This was a well-orchestrated, well-coordinated effort by several groups, to commit widespread and systemic fraud," Beach said in one video

But Beach didn't stop there. Beach also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R) and Georgia Senate President Butch Miller (R), among other defendants. The lawsuit argued that Ralston and Miller "violated their duties under the U.S. Constitution by failing to certify the presidential election results themselves." Beach asked the court to order Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the results from Georgia and other states. The case was thrown out and the attorney representing Beach now faces potential disciplinary action.

In total, Coca-Cola has donated to 29 co-sponsors of the two bills to restrict voting. In response to an inquiry from Popular Information, Coca-Cola said that it had paused all political giving after the January 6 attack on the Capitol and "that pause continues." The company did not rule out supporting Beach or other co-sponsors of legislation to restrict voting in Georgia in the future. 

Popular Information also asked Coca-Cola if it supported House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 241. In a statement, the company declined to take a position for or against the legislation, instead saying it supports a "balanced approach."

Voting is a foundational right in America, and we will continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country.

We support efforts by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session.

The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive.

Ufot said that Coca-Cola and other companies should take a clear stand. "Corporate brands leverage Georgia's civil rights history to fatten their bottom dollar. It's time to call the question: Where do you stand on this issue? Which side are you on? They don't get to hide in the shadows," she said. 

Coca-Cola is not alone. Popular Information's investigation found that, since 2018, corporations have donated $7.4 million to the sponsors of the Georgia legislation to restrict voting rights. A significant portion of this money comes from prominent national corporations that publicly profess their support for voting rights. 

The other corporations backing politicians behind voter suppressions bills

The corporations funding the sponsors of the Georgia bills to restrict voting include prominent companies headquartered in the state. 

Georgia-based Delta Air Lines has donated at least $41,600 to the 22 sponsors of the bills since 2018, including $2,500 to Georgia Senator Matt Brass (R). In November 2020, Senator Brass issued a statement asserting "crooks" had "compromised" the 2020 election. Brass said:

They cheated. Plain and simple. And the mounting evidence shows just that. Elections are only as good as the confidence our citizens have in them.  And right now, most of the people I represent, including myself, have little confidence in this validity of this election.

I, along with members of the legislature, are working closely with various parties to figure out how to stop this treachery.  These enemies of the state have shaken the very foundation of our Republic.

Brass also falsely claimed that Georgia's "laws were being violated in multiple counties” to change the outcome of the election. "10,000 dead people voted," Brass insisted, without evidence. 

Delta has also donated $3,800 to Georgia Senator Brandon Beach. 

In the run-up to the 2020 election, Delta positioned itself as a champion of voting rights. The company offered free voter registration on its flights, encouraged employees to volunteer as poll workers, and teamed up with other companies to promote early, in-person voting

“Delta is conducting robust Get Out the Vote efforts to help ensure Delta people and customers have the information they need to exercise their right to vote,” Jeff Davidman, VP of State and Local Government Affairs for Delta, said.

Popular Information asked Delta if it supported the bills to restrict voting in the Georgia legislature and whether it would continue to donate to the bills' co-sponsors. Delta did not respond. 

In January, Delta would not say whether it planned to continue supporting the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the results of the election. At that time, Delta told Popular Information that “previous contributions do not mean DeltaPAC will contribute to a candidate in the future.” 

Southern Company, a large energy company based in Georgia, has donated $38,700 to 17 Georgia state legislators who co-sponsored the bills restricting voting. This includes $2,000 to Senator Burt Jones who repeatedly pushed unfounded claims of election fraud. In November, Jones introduced a petition that called for a “special session” of the legislature to address the “systemic failures” of the election. The session was seen as an effort to throw out the presidential election results and have the legislature directly appoint electors loyal to Trump.

Jones, who supported the Texas lawsuit to throw out election results in Georgia and three other states, also co-wrote a letter to former Vice President Mike Pence asking him to delay the certification of Biden for 12 days “to allow for further investigation of fraud, irregularities, and misconduct” in Georgia’s election. 

Southern Company did not respond to a request for comment regarding its support for the two bills or whether it would continue to financially support the bills' co-sponsors. In January, the company decried the violence at the Capitol and announced that it was “discontinu[ing] support for officials” who do not act in accordance with the company’s values. 

UPS, another Georgia-based company, has also contributed significantly to the sponsors of House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 241. Since 2018, the company has donated $34,500 to 26 co-sponsors of the two bills. This includes $1,000 to Senator Beach and $1,000 to Senator Jones. UPS, which has indefinitely “suspended all PAC contributions” following the Capitol insurrection, did not respond to a request for comment.

Insurance company Aflac, which is based in Columbus, GA, has donated $7,250 to eight co-sponsors of the House and Senate bills since 2018. In September, Aflac published a video encouraging employees to make a plan to vote. Following the January 6 riots, the company announced that it was pausing all political donations to “reassess our approach.” The company did not respond to Popular Information’s request for comment regarding the Georgia legislation. 

One of the largest contributors to the sponsors of House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 241 is AT&T. According to state election campaign filings, AT&T has donated at least $99,700 to the group since 2018. AT&T is one of the companies to halt donations to the 147 lawmakers who opposed Biden’s certification. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Other prominent companies that donated to Georgia legislators pushing for voting restrictions include Lyft which has contributed $6,000 since 2018. Last year, the company joined the Time to Vote movement, an effort to increase voter turnout among the workforce. “Voting is the bedrock of a healthy democracy and a critical form of civic participation,” Lyft Chief People Officer Emily Nishi said. In January, the company announced it would no longer support the 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn the election. The company did not respond to a request for comment regarding its support of Georgia legislators

Of the 22 companies contacted by Popular Information, only Coca-Cola and GM responded. A GM spokesperson told Popular Information that “we have not supported that legislation nor have we made any contributions this year.”

This is a full list of the companies contacted by Popular Information, along with the amount donated to the sponsors and co-sponsors of House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 241 since 2018.