Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaks about his run for senate with Fox 10 News.

 

(Image: Screenshot from Fox 10 News.)

Voting Rights

These Corporations Just Made it Harder for Marginalized Groups to Battle Voter Suppression

The Arizona official who just convinced the Supreme Court to make it tougher to fight voter suppression was re-elected three years ago with the financial support of some of America’s biggest companies, campaign filings show.

It has been six months now since some of the biggest corporations in the U.S made public commitments to protecting voting rights. Many pledged not to give money to the 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Companies also condemned baseless voter-fraud claims, pledged money for voter equity efforts, and publicly supported racial-justice movements including Black Lives Matter.

The truth is, voter restriction efforts led by some members of the GOP have been running full steam ahead since far before the 2020 elections. And new pledges from many corporations to protect democracy can’t erase the role they played in those efforts, including years of political donations made to candidates fighting for restrictive voting laws. But the current urgency from many public figures, including the U.S attorney general, gives corporations a chance to condemn the lawmakers they once supported.

One official who benefited from corporate largesse is Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who won a July 1 Supreme Court decision that may impact judicial interpretations of voting laws around the country. Brnovich was re-elected in 2018 with financial backing from many familiar corporate names.

As Arizona's attorney general, it was Brnovich who convinced the Supreme Court to uphold two restrictive voting provisions of his state's election law.

The first provision requires officials to throw out ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The second provision prevents “ballot harvesting,” making it a felony to “knowingly collect voted or unvoted early ballots from another person,” with some exceptions. The ban on ballot harvesting could force rural and indigenous voters to drive hours to the nearest polling place instead of having someone else submit their ballot on their behalf.

When Arizona passed the two voting provisions in 2016, Brnovich was already in office. Voting rights activists said the provisions disproportionately harm the ability of minority voters to exercise their rights. But after the Democratic National Committee sued, claiming the provisions violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Brnovich began his legal defense of the provisions.

Two years later, state campaign disclosures show, Brnovich's re-election campaign got donations not just from the conservative Koch brothers, but from massive, mainstream corporations including Pfizer, Verizon, Sprint, JPMorgan, Microsoft, Comcast, Walmart, and CVS.

Pfizer gave $3,500 to Brnovich's re-election campaign in 2018. More recently, Pfizer has publicly supported "access" to voting. Although CEO Albert Boula decided to stay "neutral" on Georgia's new election law, he said, “We are not taking a position on specifics, on specific laws, but we are clearly stating our basic principle that access to vote is very important for democracy and it’s very important for us as a company that operates in the health care sector.”

JPMorgan committed $30 billion in October 2020 to provide economic opportunity to “underserved communities, especially the Black and Latinx communities,” in order to advance racial equity. Jamie Dimon was one of the first big CEOs to come out in favor of voting rights after the Georgia voter restriction bill was passed.

Dimon told CNN this March that his "employees span the United States and as state capitals debate election laws, we believe voting must be accessible and equitable.” In 2018, however, JPMorgan gave Brnovich $4000.

Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and MSNBC, gave $5000 to Brnovich in 2018 and also released a general statement on voting rights after Georgia’s new voting restrictions, saying, “Voting is fundamental to our democracy. We believe that all Americans should enjoy equitable access to secure elections and we have long supported and promoted voter education, registration and participation campaigns across the country to achieve that goal. Efforts to limit or impede access to this vital constitutional right for any citizen are not consistent with our values.”

Verizon gave $1500 to Brnovich in 2018. This April, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told his employees, “We will support nonpartisan efforts to encourage voting and make it more accessible for all eligible voters.”

April was also when more than 30 groups signed a letter urging companies with a big presence in Arizona, including CVS, to publicly support voting rights. The companies did not immediately respond to the letter, according to the AP.

CVS gave $500 to Brnovich in October 2018. Like many corporations, CVS states on their website that their political contributions are made without regard to “private political preferences” and are about the interests of the company.

Microsoft CEO Brad Smith released a statement on the Georgia voting rights law in March, emphasizing his concern for what the new restrictive provisions mean for a state in which Microsoft is heavily invested. Although Microsoft's investment in Arizona may not be at the level that its CEO is planning for Georgia, the company did buy 279 acres of land in Arizona in 2018, the same year it donated $1000 to Brnovich. Microsoft is also planning a sustainable data center in Arizona with multiple other sustainability initiatives planned for the region.

Mike Sievert became CEO of T-Mobile and Sprint after their merger in 2020. Sievert, on both his personal social media and T-Mobile’s website, said, “I want to be clear that we at T-Mobile are firm in our belief that Black Lives Matter—and we stand for change, for justice, and for equity.” While T-Mobile did not contribute to Brnovich’s re-election, Sprint, which historically gives more money to Republicans than to Democrats, gave $500 to Brnovich in 2018.

On Walmart’s website, during the 2020 presidential primaries, the company said it was “once again providing resources to [its] customers and associates and partnering with Time To Vote, a business-led, nonpartisan coalition that aims to increase voter participation in elections.”

A Walmart spokesperson told Insider that the company supported a recent statement by the group Business Roundtable, which "affirms that the right to vote and the integrity of our elections are cornerstones of our democracy."

Insider also quoted a note CEO Doug McMillion wrote to employees, saying Walmart is “not in the business of partisan politics.” Nevertheless, in 2017, Brnovich was the beneficiary of $1500 donated by the Walmart Stores PAC.

Such donations aren't unusual; they're the norm. A Public Citizen report in April on corporate backing since 2015 for state lawmakers pushing voter suppression included some of the same companies that donated to Brnovich. According to the report, state legislators supporting voter-suppression bills got $167,400 from Comcast, $81,100 from CVS, $111,575 from Verizon, and $146,000 from Walmart.

Companies that backed Brnovich gave more than half a million dollars to lawmakers pushing voter suppression, the report found. All told, it said, “Corporations have contributed $50 million since 2015 to state legislators supporting voter suppression bills, including $22 million during the 2020 election cycle.”

That corporate money helped put in place enough opponents of voting rights to pass Arizona's law. And contributed to Brnovich's Supreme Court victory last week, which lays out what Justice Samuel Alito called “guideposts” for future challenges to restrictive voting laws. The decision changes how the VRA is interpreted, ultimately making it harder to challenge voting restrictions related to racial discrimination.

Pres. Biden said he was "deeply disappointed" in the decision and called on Congress "to repair the damage." But it's far from clear that Democrats have the votes in Congress to pass a permanent fix of state-level rollbacks of voting rights.

None of the companies mentioned in this report responded to TYT’s requests for comment on their Brnovich donations, the Supreme Court decision, or any past commitments to protecting voting rights.

Zoltan Lucas is a TYT news assistant and a former intern for TYT Investigates. He's on twitter @thiszoltan

Jamia Zarzuela is an intern with TYT Investigates.

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