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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Companies’ Pro-Equality Rhetoric Belied By Their Campaign Donations

Companies’ Pro-Equality Rhetoric Belied By Their Campaign Donations

Last week, corporate America appeared to take a rare stand on principle. After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a law permitting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, various companies expressed outrage and tried to position themselves as bold defenders of social justice.

There was just one little problem: Many of the same companies have been donating to the public officials who have long opposed the effort to outlaw such discrimination. That campaign cash has flowed to those politicians as they have very publicly led the fight against LGBT rights.

Pence provides a perfect example. During his congressional career, he led the GOP’s fight against a federal proposal to extend civil rights protections to LGBT people, arguing that they are not “entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also supported a ban on same-sex marriage, voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and argued that legislation to prevent companies from discriminating against gay and lesbian employees would “wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace.”

In light of that record, his move as governor to sign Indiana’s so-called “religious freedom” bill permitting discrimination is not surprising. It is instead the culmination of his larger crusade waged over an entire career — one financed by many of the same companies now claiming they are outraged by the governor’s actions.

Take, for instance, Angie’s List. The company’s top executive, William Oesterle, was one of nine CEOs who signed an open letter to Pence demanding he revise the “religious freedom” legislation so that it does not allow discrimination. Oesterle also threatened to cancel plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis if Indiana legislators did not change the law. “It’s very disappointing to us that it passed and was signed by the governor,” Oesterle said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Yet, Pence’s record didn’t stop Oesterle from giving $150,000 to his 2012 gubernatorial campaign.

Similarly, Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s CEO signed the letter bashing Pence’s bill, and a company spokesperson declared that “discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.” But the company’s political action committee has given Pence’s congressional campaigns $50,200 and his gubernatorial campaign another $21,500. The latter contributions came after Eli Lilly publicly urged lawmakers to pass ENDA over the opposition of Pence and other Republicans.

In all, six of the nine corporate executives who signed the letter criticizing Pence’s legislation represent companies whose CEOs or political action committees donated to Pence while he was campaigning against LGBT rights.

Heather Cronk, co-director of the pro-equality group GetEQUAL, says the disconnect between the companies’ rhetoric and their campaign contributions is an illustrative example of hypocrisy.

“One of the key missing pieces in the conversation around Indiana’s (law) over the past two weeks has been the role of companies now slamming the bill in putting Gov. Pence in office to begin with,” she told International Business Times. “While it has been heartening to see companies defending fairness as a value,” Cronk said, the companies are “having their cake and eating it, too.”

Of course, many of the companies railing on Pence likely gave to him for reasons that had nothing to do with his position on discrimination — a lot of them probably donated because of his support for tax cuts, deregulation and other priorities on corporate America’s economic agenda. But that is hardly a valid excuse absolving those firms of their culpability in helping the fight against equality.

Perhaps more of those companies and others will now appreciate that truism — and better align their campaign donations with their purported anti-discrimination principles.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. Email him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

AFP Photo/George Frey

  • Daniel Jones

    The “hired gun” politician needs to realize that the Corporate Sponsors are mercurial, changing their priorities in pursuit of the bottom line on a nearly constant basis.
    Dancing to their tune leads the hired gun off a cliff.
    Hopefully politicians will remember that and back away from being trapped into untenable and unsuccessful positions by campaign dollars.

    • Independent1

      And of course it opens to question just how sincere the CEOs were that signed the letter bashing Pence; their signing the letter was most likely an effort to head off a PR nightmare.

  • Whatmeworry

    Indiana’s law has the support of the vast majority of Americas according to every poll

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      Nope, everyone hates that law except the republictards and peeparty whackos. The evil in our society are the gop and corporations, and managers who serve them. Thank god for union labor organizations and federal employees for their service to our country. If you see union members picketing, shake their hand and thank them, and refuse to cross their line. Mr manager will get the message.

    • Eleanore Whitaker

      Can you provide the statistics on the “vast majority of Americas” to which you refer?

      As to polls…also…not reliable in the court of public opinion. Posts on FB and other social media sites contradict what you posted.

      Narrow minds seek to control for a reason: power drunk to replace their prior pasts as druggies, boozers, womanizers and gamblers. They “get religion” and then demand others convert to diminish their personal misery at having to learn to be righteous. This is an old one anyone can attest to since the days of tent revivals and snake oil salesmen.

  • j.martindale

    And yet, perhaps it was the people who had contributed to Pence’s campaigns that had the positive effect of changing his stance on the issue. I am gay, and while I would not have voted got Pence, nor would I have looked favorably on these companies’ political contributions, they support our social issues. Just because they don’t stand with us on economic issues, I am not sure that counts as hypocrisy.