GM said it was a champion for voting rights, sent 125K to GOP group pushing voter suppression

On April 6, General Motors CEO Mary Barra wrote on LinkedIn that the "right to vote in a fair, free, and equitable manner is the most precious element of #democracy." Barra then expounded at length on GM's "support of voter rights." 

The post, published three days after Georgia's controversial voter suppression bill was signed into law, said that GM was "focused on advocating for laws that safeguard and guarantee the right to vote." The company, Barra wrote, believes "unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote strike at the heart of representative government." 

GM also posted a link to Barra's message on its Twitter account, along with a graphic touting GM's commitment to voting rights. 

But just a week earlier, on March 31, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — a driving force behind voter suppression efforts in Georgia and other states — reported receiving a $125,000 donation from GM. The company's donation was buried in a 3,618-page disclosure filed by the RSLC with the IRS earlier this week.  

The RSLC has publicly supported voter suppression efforts across the country, including a version of the Georgia voting legislation that was even harsher than the measure that ultimately became law. The RSLC supported a proposal to end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia and ban drop boxes.

Earlier this year, the RSLC launched its "Commission on Voting Integrity." The explicit goal of the Commission is to roll back changes to voting procedures put in place during the pandemic. "Democrats in 2020 used the pandemic to alter election laws in their favor — now they want to make those changes permanent," the Commission website says. The RSLC warns that unless new restrictions are put in place, "Democrats will dominate elections for years to come." 

Many members of the "Commission on Voting Integrity" have pushed Trump's lies about election fraud —  including a prominent official from GM's home state, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R). Shirkey, who also sits on the RSLC executive committee, claimed that "too many dead people" voted in Michigan, long after the claim was debunked by state officials. Shirkey also claimed that the January 6 riot was a "hoax" that didn't involve "Trump people." Shirkey apologized but then was caught on a hot mic saying he didn't actually "take back" anything. 

In May, Popular Information obtained a presentation from the RSLC's "Election Integrity Committee," prepared for its corporate supporters. The proposal included an array of proposals to suppress voting, including purging voter lists, imposing more stringent voter ID requirements, and targeting voting centers. 

Caleb Jackson, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center who specializes in voting rights, told Popular Information in May that the RSLC's proposals have "nothing to do with improving election security and… everything to do with stopping certain voters from voting."

Indeed, the RSLC presentation deck makes clear that the real purpose of these voting restrictions is to elect more Republicans. One slide asserts that Republican control of state legislatures is the "last line of defense for the Republican Party." The RSLC argues that Republicans must act "now" because "2022 is just over the horizon — election integrity is likely to have a major impact." 

Another slide in the presentation is titled, "Why It Matters: The Democrats Smell Blood." It warns that "if Democrats win key state races in 2021 and 2022, they'll have the votes they need to pass their radical agenda."

Popular Information contacted GM and asked the company to explain how its $125,000 donation to the RSLC was consistent with its stated position on voting rights. GM sent this response:

In late 2020 GM committed to renewing our memberships for 2021 for both the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee.

GM believes that through continuous bipartisan engagement with organizations, like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee, we have an opportunity to build an understanding of the issues important to our industry and in achieving GM’s vision of an all-electric future.

Our support for these organizations is evaluated on an annual basis and does not represent an endorsement of every issue the organization or its individual members may support.

GM joined corporate coalition supporting voting rights in Michigan, quietly backed Michigan official pushing voter suppression nationwide

Michigan Senator Ruth Johnson (R), who previously served as Michigan's Secretary of State, was named the co-chair of RSLC's "Commission on Voting Integrity." Earlier this year, Johnson sponsored a pair of bills as part of "a national effort by Republican Legislatures to push back against voter access measures that contributed to record turnout across the U.S. in November." 

One of Johnson's bills, SB 273, "would require for jurisdictions that had absentee ballot drop boxes before Jan. 1 of this year, approval of drop boxes by the local board of canvassers, which has equal representation from both political parties." The bill was blasted by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) as an effort to remove drop boxes from the city. Under the bill, Detroit's drop boxes would be removed without the consent of Republican board members. The bill also contained other provisions that were based on Trump's false allegations that drop boxes were stuffed with illegal votes, such as a requirement that all drop boxes be placed under video surveillance,. Another of Johnson's bills, SB 310, would prohibit the Michigan Secretary of State from mailing absentee ballots to voters absent a specific request. 

"These bills are morally reprehensible actions to try to keep people from voting because they won't vote the way the sponsors want them to," Duggan said

GM, along with other Michigan-based corporations, seemed to agree. Shortly after the bills were introduced, the Detroit Free Press reported that they were "called out in an early-morning statement issued by three dozen Michigan corporate leaders." The paper was referring to a letter, signed by GM's Barra and other CEOs, that asserted "the right to vote is a sacred, inviolable right of American citizens" and "government must avoid actions that reduce participation in elections, particularly among historically disenfranchised communities."

The Michigan legislation, however, did not have a chance because Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) pledged to veto any legislation to suppress voting. 

But while Barra was publicly opposing legislation introduced by Johnson in Michigan, GM was quietly financing Johnson's effort to bring similar legislation to restrict voting in other states. In many other states, Johnson and the RSLC were successful. 

The other corporations bankrolling the RSLC

Several other large corporations have donated to the RSLC this year, despite claiming to be champions of voting rights, according to new disclosures filed with the IRS. Popular Information asked seven corporations if they would continue to support the RSLC in light of the group’s involvement with voter suppression efforts. 

In April 2021, drugmaker Eli Lilly spoke out against a contentious legislative effort in Indiana that imposed new ID requirements on mail-in voting. 

At the time, Eli Lilly Senior Vice President Stephen Fry said that the company is committed to doing “everything in our power...to make it easier for people to exercise that fundamental right to be heard and we will work against any effort that makes exercising that right more difficult.”

Fry added that the bill was not necessary and would only “confer acceptance of a widespread falsehood that there is something to be questioned about the outcome of last year’s election,” reported The Washington Examiner

The company donated $100,000 to the RSLC in 2021, according to IRS filings. Eli Lily declined to comment.

Similarly, Facebook claims that it “support[s] making voting as accessible and broad-based as possible and oppose[s] efforts to make it harder for people to vote.” In April 2021, it signed a letter opposing “any discriminatory [voting] legislation.” Yet, as Popular Information previously reported, Facebook donated $50,000 to the RSLC in February 2021. At the time, Facebook told Popular Information that the donation was “standard practice” and was intended to be used as “membership dues” for the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association.

Walmart told Business Insider that its CEO Doug McMillon played a key role in drafting the Business Roundtable’s statement on voting rights which declared that “​​unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote strike at the heart of representative government.” In 2021, the company donated $50,000 to the RSLC. 

VMware, a technology company, also signed the same letter as Facebook that asserted “we all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote.” In 2021, VMware donated $25,000 to the RSLC. 

AT&T’s CEO John Stankeybelieves the right to vote is sacred" but notes that "election laws are complicated" and "not our company's expertise." The company donated $50,000 to the RSLC, as Popular Information reported back in April. 

In 2020, Kum & Goannounced that it was offering paid voting time to its employees. The company also signed a pledge to encourage its store associates and customers “to vote and be civically active.” In 2021, Kum & Go donated $25,000 to the RSLC.

Walgreens says it believes “strongly that...secure, fair access to voting is a fundamental constitutional right.” But in 2021, the company donated $15,000 to the RSLC. Previously, Popular Information reported that Walgreens participated in a RSLC working group on “election integrity.

Walmart, VMWare, AT&T, Kum & Go, and Walgreens did not respond to a request for comment.