You’ve been TeleConned

by Valentina Stackl

July 6, 2021

Over the last year, hundreds of companies have made halfhearted attempts to appear socially conscious by releasing statements in support of voting rights and the Movement for Black Lives. In an effort to disguise themselves as “good corporate citizens” by embodying the progressive values of their customer base, corporations are hoping that no one will bother taking an inventory of their actions.

Behind closed doors, companies are spending millions of dollars on extremist legislators pushing anti-voting and anti-protest bills.  

This year, extremist legislators have already introduced 389 anti-voting bills with restrictive provisions in 48 states. A majority of these bills seek to suppress votes in Black and Brown communities most vulnerable to the climate crisis and social injustices. Similarly, since January 2021, 84 anti-protests bills have been introduced across the US. Importantly, between May 2020 and January 2021, when massive protests against racialized police violence swept the country, three federal bills and 21 state bills “aimed at suppressing Black Lives Matter protesters” were introduced, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law. 

Some of the highest campaign contributors to the lawmakers introducing these dangerous bills are the telecommunications companies you are likely giving your hard-earned cash to, month after month: AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. 

In tracking these corporations for our recent report, Dollars vs. Democracy, we found some interesting trends. The contrast between what these companies say and what they actually do is worse than you could imagine:

Comcast says:

Article in the Intercept

Comcast does:

According to research conducted for our latest report, Dollars vs. Democracy, Comcast ranks #4 among the companies that gave the most to sponsors of key anti-voter legislation introduced in early 2021 and #3 among companies that gave the most to sponsors of anti-protest legislation. 

For example, according to Think Progress founder Judd Legum’s research, in Texas alone, Comcast contributed $142,250 to backers of bills wanting to limit voter access. Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. The most restrictive of these bills, S.B 7, originally proposed limits early voting hours and prevents local election officials from proactively sending vote-by-mail applications; this would have forced voters with disabilities to provide doctor’s notes to access mail-in ballots. 

Doesn’t sound like “equitable access to secure elections” to me. 

Verizon says:

Verizon Chairman Tweet

Verizon does:

According to our research, Verizon has contributed to and lobbied for anti-protest bills and ranked 5th among companies that gave the most to sponsors of anti-voter legislation tracked by Greenpeace. 

Verizon, gave over $38,000 to legislators backing restrictive voting bills, while telling the Associated Press that it opposed any effort making it harder for people to vote. But Verizon didn’t just contribute money to extremist lawmakers, it also lobbied for harmful anti-protest bills, including for S.B. 33 in Ohio, which was signed into law this April, and creates harsh penalties for people protesting harmful oil & gas projects, among other things.

And of course, save the best (or worst!) for last:

AT&T says: 

Corporate America cannot sit this one out


AT&T does:

AT&T is the #1 corporate contributor to sponsors of anti-voter and anti-protest legislation based on the analysis. 

According to the bills we tracked in the last election cycle, this telecommunication giant gave more than $35,400 to the sponsors of restrictive voting policies. The same omnibus anti-voting bill Comcast contributed to in Texas? AT&T contributed almost $600,000 to its various backers. 

But this isn’t their first rodeo. According to Public Citizen (and this analysis) between 2015 and 2020, AT&T handed out more than a quarter-million dollars to these anti-voting rights legislators. 

We need to fix our broken democracy to protect our planet

We only have a handful of years left to reduce the power of fossil fuel companies polluting our communities and democratic systems before rocketing past climate thresholds and finding ourselves at a catastrophic point of no return — and we can’t act unless we first fix our broken democracy. Unfortunately, many of these racist and anti-democratic bills have already been jammed through state legislatures and signed into law, while many others are pending.  

The good news is that two bills that stand before Congress would undo much of the damage and strengthen voter protection standards across the nation: The For The People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4).

It has become clear that neither bill would alone be sufficient to undo these legislative attacks. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will build the infrastructure to put out future fires in specific states. The For the People Act will put out fires that are currently raging, and threatening to burn our whole democracy down. Both must be passed to defend against ongoing racist attacks on voters. There is no question that these two bills are our best chance to safeguard our democracy, which stands at a perilous tipping point. 

No matter our color, party, or zip code, all people should have an equal say in the decisions that shape our future. The future of our democracy should not and cannot be in the hands of corporations and politicians who want to take us back to the Jim Crow era. Although a vote was taken to move the bill to the Senate floor for debate, conservative Senators like Mitch McConnell have delayed the process because they don’t want to have a debate over whether or not billionaires should be able to buy our elections.

That’s why we will continue to make the case to all members of the Senate, to the business community, and to Americans at large that this bill must pass.

AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast are disconnecting you from democracy. We want them to stop funding politicians who sponsor anti-voter or anti-protest bills that make it harder for communities to vote –– especially Black, Brown, Indigenous and persons with disabilities. 

Nationally, there is real momentum for passing  For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R.4) this year. Telecom giants like these companies can influence our elected officials to do better! That’s why we are pressuring corporations to take a public stand in support of these bills to help encourage Congress to vote for them.

We know these companies will do and say anything to continue business as usual. It is up to us to make sure they take action. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we roll out a new campaign that you can plug into.


Valentina Stackl

By Valentina Stackl

Valentina Stackl is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural communications specialist and storyteller. As Senior Communications Officer, Valentina works on Democracy (including criminalization of protest) and Climate for media, storytelling, and other communications projects.

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