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The year in Popular Information
2021 was tough. But as difficult as this year has been, it has strengthened our belief that independent accountability journalism matters. Below, we've compiled some of our best reporting of the year.
'Corporations’ Political Reckoning Began With a Newsletter.' Following the January 6 riot, Popular Information contacted 144 corporations and asked if they would continue to support members of Congress who voted to overturn the election. In response to Popular Information’s inquiry, three companies — Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and Commerce Bank — announced that they were suspending their donations to the 147 Republicans who objected to the certification of the Electoral College.
The report had vast ripple effects in the corporate world and was picked up by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Reuters, MarketWatch, Forbes, Business Insider, The Daily Beast, Axios, and other publications.
"One after another, major companies pledged this week to stop donating to politicians whose objections to America’s election results led to a riot at the U.S. Capitol. They were reacting to pressure that began with an article not in the New York Times or Washington Post, but a newsletter called Popular Information," Bloomberg's media reporter, Gerry Smith, wrote.
Eventually, dozens of the world's most prominent corporations — including AT&T, Amazon, Intel, Disney, and Walmart — announced they were also suspending donations to Republican election objectors. An even larger group of companies said they were suspending all corporate PAC donations.
Popular Information's ongoing coverage of corporate pledges — the January 6 Corporate Accountability Index — was featured in Bloomberg's 2021 Jealousy List, which recognizes the year's best business reporting. “[W]hen [Judd Legum] follows the money, he puts the rest of the business press to shame, especially when it comes to campaign contributions,” Bloomberg Managing Editor Crayton Harrison wrote.
After Popular Information report, Toyota announces it will stop donating to Republican objectors. In April, Popular Information broke the news that Toyota was the top corporate contributor to Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the election. Later, Toyota announced that it would "stop contributing to those members of Congress who contested the certification of certain states in the 2020 election." The story was featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Peer-reviewed study showed that Popular Information’s reporting dramatically increased "access to paid sick leave" at large restaurant chain. Research published in August by Harvard professor Daniel Schneider and UCSF professor Kristen Harknett in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs found that the reporting in this newsletter brought meaningful change to tens of thousands of Olive Garden workers.
Schneider and Harknett looked at the impact of a report in Popular Information about working conditions at Olive Garden. As the pandemic began to take its grip on the United States, Popular Information reported that, except in 11 states where it is required by law, Olive Garden's parent company "does not provide any of its restaurant employees with paid sick leave." According to the study, this reporting "was highly effective," dramatically increasing "employee-reported access to paid sick leave."
Further, the change in sick leave policy significantly reduced the number of employees who came to work sick at Olive Garden. "We have shown that online investigatory journalism coupled with social media activity led to substantial changes in corporate practices," the study concluded.
Exposing the corporate sponsors of voter suppression. In March, Popular Information identified the top corporate donors to state lawmakers who are aggressively pushing legislation to restrict voting.
In Georgia, Popular Information’s investigation on the corporate cash behind voter suppression bills inspired an advocacy campaign to use the report to pressure corporations to speak out against the bills. Pressure from this campaign resulted in the Georgia Chamber of Commerce releasing a statement in which it expressed its "concern and opposition" to certain provisions in the bill. Coca-Cola and Delta also spoke out. Popular Information's reporting was featured in Reuters, The New York Times, and The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Popular Information conducted similar investigations on voter suppression bills in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, prompting corporations like Union Pacific and Prudential Financial to speak out in opposition.
Caught on tape: Corporate America’s attempt to “move beyond” the January 6 riots. In May, Popular Information obtained internal records — including a recording of a Zoom call and email communications — exposing how the National Association of Business PACs (NABPAC), the trade association for corporate PACs, was advising corporations on how to resume political contributions to the Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the election. The story was featured on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes and elicited a public response from Michael DuHaime, a prominent Republican operative who was caught on tape encouraging corporations to “deal with the fallout” of donating to the Republican objectors. The story was also picked up by Business Insider.
Calling out corporate hypocrisy on LGBTQ rights. In June, Popular Information published an extensive report documenting how major corporations have spent more than $10 million on members of Congress that received a zero by the Human Rights Campaign on its latest Congressional scorecard. The story went viral and was covered in the New York Times, the Guardian, Marketplace, MSNBC, Adweek, The Hill, and The Daily News.
Following the money behind abortion bans in Texas, Ohio, and Florida. In September, a Popular Information investigation revealed that companies that claim to champion women’s rights were among the top corporate donors behind Texas' abortion ban.
AT&T, the report found, donated at least $301,000 despite boasting that "gender equity and the empowerment of women" are company values. The company told Popular Information that “AT&T has never taken a stance on abortion. Employee PAC contributions to Texas legislators went to both supporters and opponents of the Texas legislation.”
The report quickly made national news, getting picked up by the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, the Houston Chronicle, The New Republic, and even HBO’s John Oliver who called AT&T’s response "hilariously f--king weak."
It also inspired collective action: Tens of thousands of people signed a petition by UltraViolet calling on AT&T to stop funding anti-abortion politicians in Texas. The Womxn Project, an activist group, also used Popular Information's reporting as the basis of a campaign targeting CVS Health.
We also uncovered the corporate donors behind similar abortion bans in Ohio and Florida. In a separate investigation, Popular Information also revealed that some of the largest and most prestigious corporations in the United States are overwhelmingly backing anti-abortion legislators.
Exposing corporate duplicity on climate change. Throughout the fall, Popular Information reported extensively on how companies like Apple, Walmart, Netflix, and General Motors were urging Congress to take action on climate while financing multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns against Biden’s climate legislation. This reporting was featured on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes and was also picked up by Mother Jones, The Atlantic, and The Guardian.
Shining a light on the dark money weaponizing school boards. In October, Popular Information provided extensive coverage on how dark money groups were politicizing and weaponizing schools boards in Virginia to elect a GOP governor. Among other things, we revealed that a man presenting himself on Fox News as a "concerned parent," was also a paid operative for a right-wing advocacy group. The report was featured on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, which dedicated two segments to Popular Information’s coverage, and NPR.
Uncovering a massive network of right-wing fake local news sites. In November, Popular Information detailed how right-wing operatives had deployed a massive network of fake local news websites to weaponize Critical Race Theory. Our investigation revealed that there were over 1,300 websites in the network. In Texas alone, 39 fake local news sites published 11,988 articles about Critical Race Theory in 2021. The reporting was featured in The Guardian.
Reporting the full story on inflation. Using data filed with the SEC, Popular Information showed how concentrated corporate power was making inflation worse. The November report showed how "corporations are not being forced to raise prices to stay afloat" but "are choosing to raise prices to maintain large profit margins because they have enough market power to do so without losing customers." This reporting was featured in the Los Angeles Times. In December, Popular Information co-produced a video, based on even more data, that provided more evidence that corporate greed was fueling inflation.
The impact of our work was featured in The Forward, Bloomberg, The Hill. "No-one does corporate accountability — or hypocrisy — like Legum does," columnist Al Hunt, the former Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, wrote.
We've kept the paywall down on this reporting for all of 2021 and we hope to do the same in 2022. But Popular Information does not accept advertising and is funded exclusively by readers. Your support will help keep Popular Information's groundbreaking accountability journalism accessible to everyone and maximize its impact.
Together, we can do so much more. We can expose more lies, root out more corruption, and call out more hypocrites. 2022 is a year of possibility. Now is the time to invest in journalism that is unbought and unbossed.