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Sustainable Investing

Fortune 250 Companies Heavily Supported Anti-Abortion-Rights Politicians in Recent Election Cycles, Study Finds

Despite accusations, companies aren’t ‘hostage to liberal elites’ after all, report says.

A new studyof the 2020-22 election cycle has found that the largest U.S. companies provided strong financial support to state politicians who favored abortion bans and other restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

The study, by the Sustainable Investments Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, found that Fortune 250 companies and their political action committees spent more than $515 million in the last two election cycles. Overall, 57% of that amount went to candidates, parties, and PACs “clearly opposed to reproductive health rights,” the institute wrote. Almost all the recipients are Republicans, according to the report. The research was commissioned by Tara Health Foundation.

Companies Try to Appeal to Workers, Reduce ESG Risk

In recent years, companies have tried to better balance the needs of stakeholders beyond their investor base, including employees. This move also helps reduce environmental, social, and governance risk for the companies. After the state abortion bans that arose after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion, companies announced plans to provide travel funding for out-of-state abortions and other reproductive healthcare to workers. Such actions are critical to helping companies recruit attractive employees, analysts say.

But companies have also been at the heart of a Republican Party attack against ESG investing and “woke capitalism,” accusing them of promoting social and environmental causes. The critics are a lineup of aspiring presidential candidates, including Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Political Spending Can Contradict Company Actions, May Increase ESG Risk

The findings show that “corporate political spending can directly contradict their publicly stated priorities,” says Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute.

“The central finding of this study undercuts recent assertions that companies are hostage to liberal elites,” according to the report.

Such moves are counter to both employee and shareholder interests—two extremely important constituencies for companies—and create ESG risk for investors. Jackie Cook, director of stewardship for Morningstar Sustainalytics, says, “Why should shareholders care? Because companies are spending shareholder money in ways that often undermine shareholder value and erode stakeholder trust. It’s no wonder shareholder votes for proposals asking companies to be transparent about efforts to influence political campaigns and public opinion have skyrocketed in recent years.”

In a separate analysis, the Center for Political Accountability looked at companies that had made public statements about providing reproductive healthcare despite the abortion bans but had also given to opposing groups.

In 13 States, 70% of Fortune 250 Spending Went to Anti-Abortion-Rights Politicians

According to the report, 78% of companies’ total political spending went to federal races, and the rest to state races. The report, “Divided States of America: Heavily Tilted Company Support for State Abortion Ban Politicians,” found that companies spent the most in the South, where 10 states now have abortion bans. In 13 states, according to the institute, more than 70% of spending went to politicians opposed to women’s reproductive rights. “Disbursements are the least in these Democratic strongholds,” the report said.

Of the Fortune 250, 15 companies gave more than $1 million to anti-abortion-rights candidates for state office. In the South, the top supporter of anti-abortion-rights politicians was AT&T, which spent 77% of its more than $2 million in political spending, followed by UnitedHealth. In the Midwest, subsidiaries of Berkshire Hathaway spent the most.

The report also delved into contributions to governors and state attorneys general. Welsh noted that the political spending appears less one-sided when federal political spending is included. Nevertheless, Welsh adds, “You can conclude that through business-as-usual political spending, abortion rights and other fundamental rights are becoming collateral damage to commercial interests.”

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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