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Major corporations quietly funnel millions to national group behind regressive state laws
Republican state legislators across the country have embraced an aggressively regressive agenda, targeting the LGBTQ community, abortion access, voting rights, and candid discussions of race in classrooms.
But these legislators are not acting alone. They are backed by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), the “largest organization of Republican state leaders in the country and only national committee whose mission is to recruit, train, and elect Republicans to multiple down-ballot, state level offices.” The RSLC prides itself on “deliver[ing] wins for Republican state legislators” and takes credit for the fact that “Republicans currently hold majorities in 61 of 99 state legislative chambers” across the country.
The RSLC has backed the Republicans responsible for the most radical new laws enacted in 2022. In January, Florida politicians introduced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibiting any discussion of “sexual orientation or gender identity” through the third grade and any discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades. The bill passed the Florida Senate on March 8. Less than three weeks later, on March 25, the RSLC donated $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. The RSLC also donated $100,000 to the Florida Republican Majority Fund on February 22, the same week the Florida House passed the legislation.
The bill was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on March 28. The RSLC has praised DeSantis for “ensuring FREEDOM for anyone moving to the Sunshine State.”
This is not an isolated incident. According to the Charlotte Observer, when legislators in North Carolina worked to pass House Bill 2 in 2017, which required “transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings,” the RSLC “spent $850,000 on behalf” of former Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (R), a “vocal HB2 supporter.”
The RSLC also supports the politicians behind abortion bans. In September 2021, Republicans in Texas passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, prohibiting all abortions after six weeks. On February 15, 2022, the RSLC gave $135,000 to the Associated Republicans of Texas, a non-profit “committed to maintaining the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature.”
During the 2018 election cycle, “the RSLC spent roughly $1.2 million” supporting Republican candidates in Georgia, according to the Center for Political Accountability. The following year, Georgia “GOP lawmakers passed a near-total abortion ban,” that was ultimately struck down by a federal court. The RSLC does not keep this agenda a secret. In 2019, the RSLC tweeted this quote: “... [S]tate legislative races, which are often overlooked by voters…can shape the course of policy from abortion rights to education.”
When it comes to education, the RSLC has been seeking to ban candid discussions of race in schools. Critical Race Theory is a “graduate-level academic framework” which explores “laws, policies, and procedures that function to produce racial inequality.” In nearly every school district in the country, CRT is not part of the K-12 curriculum. The RSLC however, claims that “CRT is dangerous” to K-12 students.
In December, the RSLC praised Florida Republicans for “looking to ban critical race theory in schools” and “ensuring that students are in class to learn, not to be indoctrinated with divisive, politicized curriculum.”
The RSLC has also publicly supported voter suppression efforts across the country. In 2020, the RSLC supported a proposal in Georgia that would “end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia,” “ban drop boxes,” and make voter ID for absentee ballots mandatory.
In 2021, the RSLC launched its “Commission on Voting Integrity.” The goal of the Commission is “to roll back changes to voting procedures put in place during the pandemic.” The Commission website reads: “Democrats in 2020 used the pandemic to alter election laws in their favor – now they want to make those changes permanent.” In May 2021, Popular Information obtained a presentation from the RSLC’S “Election Integrity Committee,” which included proposals to suppress voting, including purging voter lists, imposing more stringent voter ID requirements, and targeting voting centers.
So far in 2022, the RSLC has received million in funding from major corporations — many of which claim to oppose the policies the RSLC supports.
Anthem: $200,000 to the RSLC
Anthem says it has “long understood how social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors impact women’s health and well-being.” On International Women’s Day last year, the company invited everyone to join them in “removing the health disparities that reduce positive outcomes for women.” This call was part of their #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequality initiative.
The health insurer also claims to be fierce advocates of racial justice. Last year, the company launched a National Health Equity Strategy to “confront the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities.” In a 2021 report, Anthem found that “racial disparities impact women of color across all socio-economic levels” and called for “a multi-system approach that considers interpersonal, institutional and structural racism.”
When it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, Anthem believes it is “vital” that LGBTQ+ patients have access to quality healthcare. During Pride Month last year, the company encouraged the public to “celebrate the LGBTQ+ people in your life” and “advocate for their rights.” Anthem also boasts of its free training for healthcare providers who want to learn how to “create an LGBT-friendly practice”––an initiative it launched to address the LGBT health disparities gap.
Yet, so far in 2022, Anthem donated $200,000 to the RSLC, supporting legislators who are pushing for regressive policies.
Anthem did not respond to a request for comment.
Walmart: $65,000 to the RSLC
Walmart believes that "[e]mpowering women creates shared value: it’s good for society, and it’s good for business."
The company claims it is "committed to providing opportunities for women inside and outside of Walmart to grow and achieve their goals while creating a more inclusive and innovative workplace, resilient supply chain and thriving communities."
It also says it will “continue to focus on inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Walmart also purports to be a champion of voting rights. The company touted that its CEO, Doug McMillon, was actively involved 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.” A spokesperson told Business Insider that the letter “affirms that the right to vote and the integrity of our elections are cornerstones of our democracy.”
But the company donated $75,000 to the RSLC so far in 2022, a group that seeks to ban abortions, attack LGBTQ rights, and limit voting access.
Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.
Eli Lilly: $40,000 to the RSLC
Last year, when Indiana legislators introduced a bill that would tighten mail-in voting by requiring a photo ID, drugmaker Eli Lilly spoke out.
“Our belief is that we should do everything in our power as a Hoosier-based company 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,” Eli Lilly Senior Vice President Stephen Fry said.
According to Fry, the bill would “confer acceptance of a widespread falsehood that there is something to be questioned about the outcome of last year’s election.”
Currently, “Election Integrity”–– a euphemism for new voting restrictions –– is listed as one of four focus areas on the RSLC’s website.
Eli Lilly also claims to be committed to “to bringing people and organizations together to acknowledge racial inequity in its many forms and create a call to action for lasting change.” In 2020, the company launched a Racial Justice Commitment to “confront racial inequities head on.”
Previously, the company has asserted that “Lilly's value of Respect for People and #LGBTQ pride go hand in hand.”
Nevertheless, Eli Lilly donated $40,000 to the RSLC so far in 2022.
Eli Lilly did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce: $250,000 to the RSLC
In 2022, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest lobbying group, has given the RSLC $250,000. In 2020, the Chamber was the largest donor to the RSLC. The Chamber’s membership consists of nearly every prominent corporation in this country.
According to its website, the Chamber believes that “the business community is a powerful voice and network that can drive LGBT inclusion, acceptance, and empowerment.” In 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a report stating that “standing up for employees and the community in the face of anti-LGBT legislation is paramount to being inclusive.”
“When a company matches its public and private positions on LGBT inclusion, it demonstrates its authenticity about LGBT inclusion,” the report read.
In another report, titled “The Business Case for Racial Equity,” the Chamber stresses “the importance of racial equity as both an imperative for social justice and a strategy for economic growth.” Following the death of George Floyd, the Chamber said that it “stand[s] in solidarity against racism and advocate[s] for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society and economy.”
But the Chamber’s donations to the RSLC bankroll legislators who are behind bills that attack LGBTQ+ rights and restrict how we can talk about race and racism.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment.
Other prominent corporate donors to the RSLC include Altria ($300,000), Koch Industries ($225,000), GlaxoSmithKline ($75,000), Disney ($60,000, in-kind), Bayer ($50,000), Nationwide ($50,000), T-Mobile ($50,000), Uber ($50,000), Google ($30,000), 3M ($25,000), eBay ($25,000), Charter Communications ($20,000), PepsiCo ($15,000), MolsonCoors ($10,000), Mastercard ($5,000) and Wendy’s ($5,000). None of the companies responded to Popular Information’s requests for comment.