Op-Ed: AT&T Claims to Support Voting Rights as Its PAC Undermines Democracy

by | Aug 2, 2021 | Opinion, Politics

Earlier this year, in the face of a wave of Jim Crow-style voter suppression bills in state legislatures across the country including Texas, AT&T came out with a public statement of apparent disapproval. In April 2021, AT&T CEO John Stankey claimed “We believe the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections.’” He added: “We are working […] to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote.” 

But there’s just one glaring problem with this supposed outpouring of principled leadership. AT&T and its affiliated PACs are doing the exact opposite – supporting those scheming to take away fundamental voting rights from eligible voters.  

The Texas legislature is poised to pass legislation curbing early voting hours and banning 24-hour voting among other undemocratic measures — a thinly disguised effort to disenfranchise eligible voters across the state, including people with disabilities and people of color. This effort is the very antithesis of AT&T’s purported values defending ‘every person’s ability to vote.’  

And yet, campaign finance records reveal that in June 2021 alone — as the voting restriction proposals were reaching a fever pitch in Texas — AT&T affiliated PACs were busy funneling at least $127,500 to the campaigns of Texas state lawmakers who were publicly pushing voter suppression bills in May. This includes a $100,000 contribution to Texas Governor Greg Abbott on the same day Abbott called for a special legislative session to pass a voter suppression bill among other controversial right-wing priorities. These same lawmakers are doing all they can to pass racially-targeted restrictions during Texas’ July special session.  

In addition, AT&T remains affiliated with one of the most prominent and influential organizations working against a healthy democracy: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. chamber calls itself the “world’s largest business federation.” And thanks to the financial support it receives from major corporations like AT&T, it has spent a staggering $1.6 billion lobbying the federal government since 1998, and given over $116 million to political candidates — mostly to Republicans. Millions of these dollars have poured into the pockets of the lawmakers and groups leading the fight to advance voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts.  

As far back as 2010, the U.S. chamber “hatched” and funded a conservative-led redistricting project known as REDMAP, which was condemned by a leading civil rights activist as having “cracked, stacked, packed and bleached Black voters” to reduce their political representation.  

Most recently, the Chamber has engaged in a lobbying blitz against HR1, the For the People Act, a historic U.S. House-passed bill that would preserve access to the ballot box for all Americans. HR1 would help counteract some of the worst voting restriction measures being put in place in Texas and other right-wing state legislatures across the country.  

AT&T clearly wants to have its cake and eat it, too — telling its customers, shareholders and employees they embrace voting rights while its affiliated PACs dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of those trying to put up even more barriers for voters of color. Money talks, and contributions to the architects behind efforts to suppress the freedom to vote in Texas speak much louder about the company’s true corporate values.  

If AT&T truly cares about preserving access to the ballot box for all, why are they not calling out the lawmakers they helped put in power who are trampling all over that fundamental right? Why have they not cut the cord with the U.S. Chamber over its continued assault on democracy?  

When corporations remain silent when it matters most or continue to support groups like the U.S. Chamber that are actively undermining democracy, it’s tantamount to an endorsement of their behavior. AT&T can’t hide from the public record. If the company’s words continue to contradict the actions of its political committee, AT&T might as well stamp its corporate logo on Texas’ voter suppression bill. 

Kyle Herrig is the president of Accountable.US, a nonpartisan, progressive organization that uses investigative research and high-impact communications to expose corruption and hold government officials and corporate special interests accountable.

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