The year in Popular Information
Below, we've compiled some of our best reporting of the year. To get accountability journalism like this straight to your inbox in 2023, subscribe. It’s free to sign up.
Accountability for right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. On March 14, 2022, Popular Information broke the news that Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by billionaire Charles Koch, was continuing business in Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The report was picked up by several major media outlets, including the New York Times, CBS News, Newsweek, Marketwatch, Salon, and The Daily Beast.
Two days later, on March 16, Popular Information uncovered how a network of pundits and groups publicly arguing against the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia were receiving funding from Charles Koch's non-profit network. Koch Industries made its first public statement acknowledging its Russian operations on March 17. The company insisted that exiting Russia would "do more harm than good."
On April 6, Popular Information obtained an internal email from Charles Koch's non-profit network, Stand Together, stating the group's opposition to economic sanctions. It also explicitly linked this position to Koch Industries' decision to maintain its operations in Russia. On April 18, a Popular Information report revealed that a foreign policy analyst funded by Stand Together was publicly casting doubt about whether Russian forces were attacking civilians in Ukraine. On April 21, under increasing pressure, Koch Industries announced that it was halting business operations in Russia.
Document obtained by Popular Information cited in class action lawsuit against DeSantis. In September, Popular Information obtained a brochure that was given to migrants who agreed to board flights chartered by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The brochure listed numerous benefits that migrants would be eligible to receive, including “8 months cash assistance,” “job placement,” “assistance with housing,” and much more. These benefits were also promised verbally to lure migrants on the plane.
But none of this was true. The brochure failed to mention that these benefits were only available to specially designated refugees. Popular Information's story was picked up by NBC News, Vice, Vanity Fair, Politico, Business Insider, and Univision.
Days after the Popular Information report, the brochure was cited in a class action lawsuit filed against DeSantis and his accomplices.
Breaking the news about Disney's support of the politicians behind "Don't Say Gay." In March 2022, Popular Information reported on Disney’s refusal to take a stand on the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida. According to internal emails and memos obtained by Popular Information, Disney executives attempted to defend the company’s silence and argued that the best way for Disney to support the LGBTQ community was to ignore the bill and focus on creating "inspiring content.” Popular Information also found that Disney had donated nearly $300,000 in the last two years to the lawmakers behind the bill.
A day after Popular Information’s report, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced the company was “opposed” to the bill. A few days later, Chapek also announced that the company was suspending all political donations in Florida. According to the Washington Post, this move came after "Popular Information, an independent accountability journalism newsletter, [reported] the company has given nearly $300,000 to backers of the Florida bill in the last two years.”
Fake environmental group ends six-figure ad campaign. In August, Popular Information published a report on United for Clean Power’s advertising campaign against Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Popular Information revealed that the group has extensive ties to a network of Republican operatives who use non-profit groups to manipulate issues. After being informed of Popular Information’s plan to publish the story, United for Clean Power deactivated all of its ads on Facebook and Google the following day.
College Board parts ways with top executive pushing to limit instruction on race and history in classrooms. In February, Popular Information exposed how a top executive at College Board, Todd Huston, was behind a controversial bill that "limit[s] what teachers can say regarding race, history, and politics in Indiana classrooms." Huston, who was the College Board’s Senior Vice President for State and District Partnerships, also served as Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives. A day after Popular Information’s story, College Board announced it was parting ways with Huston. The story was featured in the Indianapolis Star, Indiana's largest paper, as well as Chalkbeat and NBC Today.
Tinder and Match end donations to Republican Attorneys General. On June 27, 2022, Popular Information reported that Match Group, which operates Match, Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid, and other popular dating sites, had donated $137,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). RAGA played a central role in Dobbs. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R), a member of RAGA, was in charge of the legal strategy to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion.
Popular Information’s report quickly generated extensive coverage in The Guardian, Vox, and the New York Times (twice). On July 7, Match Group said it will stop donating to RAGA. CEO Bernard Kim said he only learned of Match's donation to RAGA after Popular Information's report.
Major cinema chain exposed for distributing discredited film about 2020 voter fraud. In May, a Popular Information investigation revealed that Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest cinema chain, played a key role in the distribution of the widely-debunked election fraud documentary 2000 Mules. Cinemark's founder and Chairman of the Board, Lee Roy Mitchell, is a major financial backer of Trump and right-wing misinformation platforms. The story was picked up by the Dallas Morning News and the Guardian.
Reporting on corporate donations to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers inspires action. Since our founding, Popular Information has repeatedly exposed corporations that claim to champion LGBTQ rights but donate extensively to anti-LGBTQ politicians. In June, we highlighted 25 prominent companies that had donated $13 million to anti-LGBTQ politicians since 2021, prompting nationwide coverage on NBC News, Fast Company, Real Simple, The 19th, Ad Week, and elsewhere.
Consumers and employees alike are using Popular Information’s research to take action. Portland's Pride Parade rejected JPMorgan's offer to sponsor this year’s Pride Northwest “after coming across a 2021 investigation by Popular Information regarding the bank's PAC spending,” reported Business Insider. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that hundreds of Comcast employees are “raising concerns” about the company’s financial support of “politicians who advance anti-LGBTQIA+ causes” and citing Popular Information’s research.
Top PR firm apologizes for telling companies to stay quiet on abortion rights. In May, Popular Information revealed that PR giant Zeno was privately advising its high-profile corporate clients — including Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Netflix — to avoid commenting on abortion rights, according to an email obtained by Popular Information. Zeno was forced to apologize, saying that the email included “a poor choice of words.” The story went viral, with nationwide coverage in Business Insider, Newsweek, CNN, Ad Age, PRWeek, Yahoo, Fortune, Fox Business, and elsewhere.
Revealing Toyota's hypocrisy on election deniers. In April, Popular Information reported that Toyota began donating to election objectors six months after announcing it would halt donations. Hours later, the story began trending on Twitter and was featured in CBS News, The Detroit News, The Hill, Vice News, Automotive News, and Yahoo Finance.
Holding DeSantis accountable for lying about math textbooks. In May, Popular Information exposed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis falsely claimed publishers were targeting elementary school students with radical theories about race. In reality, each of the reviewers explicitly stated that they did not find any instances of Critical Race Theory in elementary school math textbooks. In response, the Florida Department of Education began attacking Popular Information on Twitter. The story was featured in Salon.
Exposing right-wing activists fighting to ban thousands of books. In December, a Popular Information investigation revealed how the founder of the Florida chapter of No Left Turn in Education, a right-wing group funded by Charles Koch, is attempting to remove thousands of books from the shelves of school libraries in Clay County, Florida. The story was picked up by the Daily Mail and the Tampa Bay Times.
In a separate investigation, Popular Information uncovered how a high school English teacher, Vicki Baggett, is seeking to ban nearly 150 books from school libraries in Escambia County. Among the books challenged was When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball, a book about the childhood of a legendary Olympic sprinter. Baggett alleged the purpose of the 32-page children's book was "race-baiting."
Republican Attorneys General Association returns illegal contribution from anti-vax group. In February, Popular Information broke the story that RAGA accepted an illegal $50,000 contribution from Children's Health Defense, a prominent anti-vaccine group run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. One day after Popular Information’s report, RAGA returned the illegal contribution.
Uncovering a purge of left-leaning tenured faculty by a former Koch Industries executive. Popular Information uncovered how mass layoffs at Emporia State University were led by Ken Hush, a former Koch executive and the newly-appointed president of the university. Faculty members who were let go told Popular Information that they believe they were victims of an ideological purge, cast aside for failing to go along with the university’s political agenda. Charles Koch has been a critic of liberal arts education and the tenure system for decades.
Pulling back the curtain on Wells Fargo’s corporate PAC. In June, Popular Information obtained Wells Fargo PAC’s “Transparency Report” from a source inside the company. The report, which details the PAC’s new “contribution criteria,” did not include the January 6 vote to overturn the election as part of its criteria. Despite pledging to “take into consideration the actions of elected officials who objected to the Electoral College vote," Wells Fargo is now one of the top donors to Republicans who voted against Biden’s certification.
Popular Information has also documented how Wells Fargo spends hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting anti-abortion politicians. Our reporting inspired a Pennsylvania County to begin the process of divesting $145 million in assets from the bank.
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