The report AT&T didn't want to produce
Last Friday, AT&T quietly published an extraordinary document. For the first time ever, the company released a "political congruency report." The report, which covers the year 2022, looks at the "[s]tate and federal elected officials to whom AT&T or its Employee PACs have made political contributions" and compares the "voting record" of these officials "to the Company's stance."
Over several years, Popular Information has documented how AT&T's political donations were in conflict with its stated values.
AT&T, for example, claims to support LGBTQ rights, asserting that it “recognizes, embraces, and stands with LGTBQ+ people.” But between January 2022 and June 2023, AT&T donated at least $1,396,650 to anti-LGBTQ legislators.
AT&T also claims to be an ardent supporter of voting rights. AT&T posted a four-minute video on its corporate website, "AT&T Employees Honor Those Who Fought for the Right to Vote," documenting a trip by AT&T representatives to Selma, Alabama, to honor John Lewis and others who fought for voting rights.
But, from 2018 to 2021, AT&T donated at least $574,500 to the politicians behind Texas' voter suppression legislation. Over the same time period, AT&T donated at least $99,700 to the Georgia politicians behind that state's new law to restrict voting.
Similarly, AT&T claims to champion women's equality. In AT&T's 2020 Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Report, CEO John Stankey said one of the company's "core values" was "gender equity and the empowerment of women." But, from 2018 to 2021, AT&T donated $301,000 to the sponsors of Texas' draconian abortion ban. After the bill was signed into law, AT&T donated $50,000 directly from its corporate treasury to the Texas Senate Republican Caucus (all 18 Texas Senate Republicans voted in favor of the ban) and $30,000 to House Speaker Dade Phelan (R), who marshaled Texas' abortion ban through the House.
These and other conflicts promoted a group of shareholders to introduce a resolution in April 2022 calling on AT&T to "publish a report, at reasonable expense, analyzing the congruence of the Company’s political and electioneering expenditures during the preceding year against publicly stated company values and policies, listing and explaining any instances of incongruent expenditures, and stating whether the Company has made, or plans to make, changes in contributions or communications to candidates as a result of identified incongruencies." AT&T encouraged shareholders to vote against the resolution claiming existing disclosures are sufficient and producing such a report would not be "in the stockholders’ best interests."
Nevertheless, the call for a political congruency report received nearly 45% of shareholder votes, far more than any other shareholder resolution. In April 2023, to fend off the introduction of a similar shareholder resolution, AT&T voluntarily agreed to produce a report that conveys "the extent to which its political contributions align with the company’s stated political engagement priorities."
The fact that AT&T has now produced such a report is a significant step. The company has recognized, in principle, that the alignment of its political spending with its stated values is important. The report itself, however, has significant flaws.
The problems with AT&T's new report
AT&T's 2022 Political Congruency Report is most notable for the issues it does not address. The report does not discuss how the politicians that AT&T supports financially align with AT&T's stated position on voting rights, LGBTQ equality, or women's empowerment. AT&T comments on these issues, giving the public the impression that they are priorities for the company. But the report does not address them at all. AT&T did not respond to a request for comment about why these issues were excluded.
Instead, the report is limited to AT&T's "political priorities" as specified in AT&T's latest "Political Engagement Report." According to that document, AT&T's political priorities are "U.S. Economic Stability and Growth, Resilient Infrastructure, Technological Progress and Access, and Employee Opportunity." Separately, the political congruency report looks at AT&T's "sustainability priorities" as defined in AT&T's "Corporate Sustainability Summary." AT&T's "sustainability priorities" are currently "Connectivity-related Climate Solutions, Climate Modeling for Network and Community Resilience/Adaptation, Waste Reduction and Management, and Supplier Diversity."
At the federal level, AT&T identified 9 bills signed into law relevant to its political priorities. It divided these bills into three categories. If a member of Congress supported by AT&T supported even one of these bills within a category, it considers them "partially aligned" with AT&T's priorities. Even with a limited scope and generous definition of "partially aligned," the results are a mixed bag:
The report says AT&T "did not identify any enacted federal legislation in 2022 associated with our Sustainability Priorities." This is another flaw in the report. Congress enacted the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, which is highly relevant to "climate solutions," a purported priority. It is likely that AT&T excludes this because it is defining its interest more narrowly around "connectivity-related climate solutions" and "climate modeling." But more robust climate-related legislation was not passed due to uniform opposition by right-wing members of Congress, many of whom are supported by AT&T.
Further, AT&T's public messaging on climate is not limited to "connectivity-related" issues and "modeling." AT&T says that "[a]ddressing climate change through mitigation and adaptation will not just manage climate-related risks but will also provide an opportunity to build a more sustainable global economy" and "AT&T is part of the worldwide effort to accelerate this transition and achieve net zero GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions."
This problem is also evident at the state level. AT&T acknowledges that there are bills relevant to climate change that are passed at the state level. But it only considers votes on enacted bills related to "Climate Modeling for Network and Community Resilience/Adaptation" and "Waste Reduction and Management." AT&T claims that the state legislators it supports are aligned with its "sustainability priorities" even though many legislators supported by AT&T reject climate science and block any significant effort to address climate change.
AT&T did not always have such a cramped view of its own political priorities. In opposing the shareholder resolution for a political congruency report in 2022, AT&T noted that "two-thirds of PAC contribution recipients supported the Dream Act, the Equality Act, and the Paris climate change accords, consistent with AT&T’s values regarding safeguarding human rights and protecting our environment." But this was an accidental result of AT&T's quickly abandoned 2021 pledge not to support members of Congress that voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
In 2022, the majority of members of Congress financially supported by AT&T opposed the Dream Act. Conveniently, AT&T no longer considers the Dream Act when evaluating how the politicians it supports align with company values.