Amazon, AT&T, and Pfizer donated more than $160,000 to Republican members of the Tennessee State House who expelled two Black Democrat lawmakers last week, campaign finance records show.
Reps. Justin Jones (D) and Justin Pearson (D) were expelled from their seats by the Tennessee House GOP for leading a demonstration demanding tighter gun laws after another school shooting, and after years of Tennessee Republicans loosening gun laws.
The expulsion of the two junior legislators sparked nationwide outrage, condemnation from the White House, and an outcry for federal action.
The members are back at their jobs after being appointed by local officials to fill their own vacancies. But the actions of the Republican supermajority have drawn federal scrutiny, with some U.S. Senate Democrats calling on Wednesday for a Justice Department investigation.
And some of the Tennessee Republicans who led the expulsion won their elections with help from some of the biggest corporate names in the world.
According to state campaign finance records, Amazon, Pfizer, and AT&T donated $164,350 to 57 of the Tennessee Republican House members who voted for Jones’ and Pearson’s ouster.
As TYT reported Tuesday, Koch Industries, which is controlled by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, gave $21,500 to 28 of the Tennessee state Republicans who voted for expulsion. (The company also gave $7500 to Gov. Bill Lee (R) in the last election cycle.)
Koch Industries is also a corporate backer of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which fights gun control by drafting and disseminating to friendly lawmakers legislative language for loosening gun laws.
Amazon, Pfizer, and AT&T didn’t just back the anti-gun control GOPers; all three companies are also former members of ALEC.
At the time they departed ALEC, each company cited reasons including some directly relevant to guns and the preservation of representative democracy. Despite pulling out of ALEC, however, all three companies have continued backing lawmakers aligned with ALEC’s goals. (None of the three corporations responded to TYT’s requests for comment.)
During the 2022 election cycle, Amazon gave $78,000 to 32 Republicans who would go on to expel Jones and Pearson. AT&T donated $56,850 to 53, and Pfizer gave $29,500 to 21. Those donations include a total of $22,500 given just to state House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R), nearly half of which came from Amazon.
Tennessee Republicans have introduced bills that would make it easier for people to carry guns onto public property and universities, as well as let faculty and staff carry concealed weapons on school grounds, and to lower the age requirement for concealed-carry permits to 18 years old.
Jones and Pearson were expelled by two thirds of the Tennessee House Republican supermajority, led by Sexton, last Thursday. Along with hundreds of students, Jones and Pearson had demonstrated in the House, calling for tougher gun laws following the shooting deaths of three nine-year-old students and three adults at a Christian school in Nashville last month.
Both Jones and Pearson also spoke out of turn during House proceedings. The House Republicans did not, however, oust Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), who is White, although she joined Jones and Pearson in protest.
Pearson, who represents Memphis, was reinstated to his seat Wednesday afternoon. Jones was reinstated to his House seat by unanimous vote of the Nashville Metro Council Monday. As interim appointees, both will be eligible to run in a special election and then again in the November 2024 general election.
Following a week of a national spotlight on the Tennessee House Republicans, Lee, the governor, on Tuesday signed an executive order toughening background checks for gun owners by improving the reporting mechanisms that identify people barred from purchasing guns. Lee also called on lawmakers to bolster state legislation akin to the red-flag laws common in other states.
Lax gun laws – including one supported by ALEC – were the reason one of the three companies who’ve backed Tennessee Republicans ended their support for ALEC.
That company was Amazon, which cut ties with ALEC in 2012 due to its engineering of controversial “stand your ground” laws, one of which let George Zimmerman walk free after stalking and killing unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin.
AT&T left ALEC in 2018 due to hatemongering and Anti-Muslim rhetoric from a headline speaker at one of the group’s conventions, according to CMD.
And Pfizer left ALEC in 2020, according to CMD, over a string of voter suppression laws being pushed by the group. Pfizer, however, remains part of PhRMA, the mega pharmaceuticals conglomerate which sits on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Board.
TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.