Earlier this month, about 70 Texas businesses signed a letter condemning a discriminatory bill now circulating in the state legislature that would largely bar transgender people from using public restrooms or changing facilities that match their gender identity.
“We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and we are proud of our companies’ track records on creating diverse workforces and inclusive work environments,” reads the March 1 letter against SB 6, which passed the state senate on March 15 and is currently in the house. “We stand together to oppose legislation that would legalize discrimination against any group that would undermine our ability to ‘Keep Texas Open for Business.'”
Despite their public stance against this anti-trans legislation, however, representatives of some of these same companies—including Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, and United Continental—have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades to the campaigns of the very lawmakers pushing the bill.
The political action committees of three law firms, one trade association, and eight other companies that signed the letter have given a total of nearly $185,000 to the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Republican state senators who sponsored SB 6. From 1998 through 2016, companies have filled the coffers of these conservative Republicans’ campaigns, helping to seat them at the legislature and make SB 6 possible.
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Meanwhile, PACs of six of those companies and an additional law firm that opposes SB 6 combined to donate over $50,000 since 2006 to the recurring campaigns of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of SB 6’s biggest proponents. Some also gave large donations to the state Republican Party and to outside political groups that funneled money into Texas politics, aiding the bill’s sponsors.
Should SB 6 become law, as the companies stated in their letter, Texas risks massive revenue and job losses, an injured tourism industry, and hampered recruitment. Advocates, meanwhile, note that trans Texans, who are already at disproportionate risk of harm, would be put in more danger.
“When transgender women, children, and men go into the public bathroom that is congruent with their gender identity, they are the most vulnerable person in that facility,” said Rev. S. David Wynn, lead pastor of Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth, at a press conference organized by Equality Texas. “They are already targets for bullying, shaming, and violence. They are the ones who need protection.”
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Discrimination Writ Large
SB 6, named the “Texas Privacy Act,” is very similar to North Carolina’s HB 2, introduced and passed last March. Despite costing the state an estimated $3.76 billion in lost business and likely causing the Republican governor to lose re-election, conservative leaders there have refused to cleanly repeal it. And like North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” SB 6 also preempts local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect the rights of transgender people.
Proponents of the bill argue they are “protecting the privacy of Texans and keeping them safe.” But experts and police chiefs around the nation have found no evidence that inclusive transgender bathroom policies endanger anyone. In fact, the people most at risk are trans people themselves, especially trans women of color, who are subject to far higher homicide rates than non-trans people.
In other words, the claim from primary sponsor Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) that the bill “is about privacy and protection for all people” couldn’t be further from the truth.
SB 6 is a thinly veiled attempt to police the actions of trans people in public. In fact, those pushing the bill go so far as to suggest that trans people don’t exist at all: “I think the god I believe in, the cross I wear today, said there was man and woman,” said Kolkhorst in a five-hour Texas Senate debate.
“It’s not easy when we talk about these issues,” she added. “Cisgender. Transgender. How many genders are there? Are we created man and woman? Or do we internalize something different?”
Several state and national advocacy groups have organized events and strategies to oppose SB 6. Equality Texas held a press conference on March 7 against the bill with the Texas Freedom Network, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. On March 20, these groups, along with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, hosted an “All In For Equality Advocacy Day” at the state capitol with a press conference, rally, and lobbying meetings. Equality Texas created a web form for residents to email their senator about the bill. And conventions are already beginning to boycott the state, with sports leagues and private companies coming out in opposition to the legislation.
Money Funneled to SB 6 Architects
Tech giants Hewlett Packard and Microsoft; airlines American and United; law firms Haynes and Boone, and Bracewell; and the Texas Association of Business were among the 12 entities officially opposed to SB 6 with PACs that combined to donate nearly $185,000 since 1998 to the campaigns of legislative SB 6 sponsors, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
From 2000 to 2016, chemical giant Dow gave by far the most, forking over roughly $63,000 to 14 sponsors, including $1,250 to Kolkhorst. The company donated $14,000 to sponsors’ campaigns during the most recent election cycle.
Other big spenders include the Houston-based law firm Bracewell, which has given nearly $26,000 to seven SB 6 sponsors since 2000. This total includes $8,000 in donations to Kolkhorst, including $1,000 in mid-November 2016, after the elections had concluded.
Hewlett Packard, with a large presence near Houston, gave $18,500 to nine sponsors, and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare donated $17,500 to five.
Even the PAC of SMART, formerly known as the United Transportation Union, which is affiliated with the generally Democrat-supporting AFL-CIO umbrella organization, donated $8,000 to SB 6 sponsor Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) from 2003 through 2014. The AFL-CIO signed a different anti-SB 6 letter from Texas investors sent on February 21.
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Meanwhile, the PACs of four companies and three law firms that signed the letter against the bill also have donated to the campaigns of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the last decade. Patrick began his public crusade against transgender bathroom use in 2015, using fear-mongering to encourage Houston voters to reject a nondiscrimination ordinance. In April 2016, he called for a state law preventing trans people from using facilities that match their gender identity. And on January 5, he joined with Kolkhorst to announce the Privacy Act.
Among those signatories to the letter that have supported Patrick’s campaigns are Bracewell ($22,000), United and Continental Airlines, which merged in 2010 ($14,000), Hewlett Packard ($10,500), Microsoft ($5,000), Dow Chemical ($3,500), Haynes and Boone ($1,000), and Strasburger & Price ($500).
More Ways to Fund Anti-Trans Officials
Direct campaign contributions aren’t the only way for companies to influence elections. Companies, as well as individual donors, super PACs, and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups, often indirectly do so by giving large sums to national and state-based independent spending groups and party organizations, which then give to campaigns for elected officials or legislation.
For example, Microsoft gave $200,000 to the Texas Republican Party from 2000 to 2014. During that period, the party funneled $111,000 to the campaigns of SB 6 sponsors and spent $564 on an independent political expenditure benefiting Kolkhorst.
Also giving to the Texas GOP were other companies that signed the letter including Marriott ($14,000 since 2005), Capital One ($10,000 in 2012), and Google ($95,000 since 2013).
In addition, during the 2014 election cycle, Microsoft gave $200,000 to the national Republican Governor’s Association, which gave the state GOP $850,000 that cycle.
To demonstrate another instance of the flow of cash among donors in a single election cycle, take the 2012 season specifically, when several companies that signed the anti-SB 6 letter also donated to the national Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) Among these companies were Google ($147,000), Hewlett Packard ($100,000), eBay ($81,000), Dow Chemical ($75,000), Facebook ($50,000), and Capital One ($29,000), according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In 2012, RLSC sent $100,000 over to trade association Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which spent $163,000 in 2012 on independent expenditures indirectly benefiting SB 6 sponsor Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio). That year, the PAC of Texans for Lawsuit Reform gave $23,000 directly to Campbell’s campaign; $883,000 to the campaign of SB 6 sponsor Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood); $340,000 to the campaign of SB 6 sponsor Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills); $30,000 to sponsor Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls); and $5,000 to Patrick’s campaign; among other SB 6 proponents.
Many of the same companies donated tens or hundreds of thousands more to RSLC in the 2014 election cycle, the same cycle when RSLC donated over $75,000 to Patrick’s 2014 campaign.
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The Companies’ Defense
Rewire reached out to 12 companies and the SMART union to ask if they were aware that their donations had helped elect SB 6 sponsors and if their donation policies would change in light of the bill. An American Airlines spokesperson affirmed the company’s dedication to equal rights for its LGBTQ customers and employees, but said it doesn’t comment on specific contributions made by its PAC.
A Dow spokesperson wrote that the company “seeks to work with political leaders at all levels” to aid its competitiveness, and it welcomes “open and respectful dialogue and exchange of views” with politicians it doesn’t agree with to “achieve meaningful results.”
The Texas Association of Business, the main business trade association in the state that represents companies and many local chambers of commerce, did say that SB 6 will affect future donation decisions. Communications Director Robert Wood wrote in an email to Rewire that while these decisions by the PAC’s board are never based on one piece of legislation, “SB 6 will be factored into future endorsements and contributions.” Without giving specifics, Wood said, “Unsolicited, many of our members have shared they will have to make tough business decisions if SB 6 passes.” Earlier, he wrote, “If companies leave the state entirely or focus on making future choices elsewhere, [these] are tough decisions many companies are facing.”
The association’s member chambers of Greater Austin, Cedar Park, Greater El Paso, Fort Bend, Plano, Round Rock, and North San Antonio all signed the letter opposing SB 6. The member chapters do not have state-level PACs.
The other companies did not respond to inquiries by press time.
Now that the Privacy Act has passed the senate, it’s under consideration in the house, where the Republican speaker has warned against the bill because of the economic implications. House leaders have implied that the bill may never reach the floor for a full vote.
If the Texas legislature passes SB 6 and Gov. Greg Abbott (R)—whose March 23 tweet suggested he supports the bill—signs it, trans people will be deeply harmed, the state will lose millions or perhaps billions of dollars, and the bill’s supporters may face tough reelection campaigns in 2018.
Meanwhile, if the bill doesn’t pass, sources consulted by the Texas Tribune expect that far-right lawmakers—possibly some of those aided by the money from the anti-SB 6 companies—will force a vote by attaching an anti-trans bathroom provision to other legislation.