Corporate Donors Bankrolling Texas Lawmakers Behind 'Voter Suppression' Bills

Texas lawmakers have filed a slew of so-called election integrity bills this legislative session.
Texas lawmakers have filed a slew of so-called election integrity bills this legislative session. Lauren Drewes Daniels
As controversial voting bills become law in states around the country, some of the nation’s largest companies have spoken out to condemn what they say amounts to voter suppression.

But here in Texas three of the state’s largest corporate donors — Exelon Corp., Oncor and Ryan LLC — have donated nearly half a million dollars to more than a dozen Republican state senators who sponsored Senate Bill 7, according to a new report by the watchdog Accountable.US.

In the report, the Washington-based advocacy group noted that the three donors “have professed a commitment to equality and diversity.”

Meanwhile, the same trio has together “given $493,000 to Texas state Senators who sponsored SB 7, many of whom had troubling prior histories of racism, discrimination or voter suppression.”

The report, which also examined similar donor relationships in Arizona and Florida, focused on $800,500 worth of corporate donations in the three states.

“These corporations tout commitments to diversity and racial equity, then they turn around and donate thousands to lawmakers responsible for stripping voting rights away from Black and Brown Americans,” Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a press release.

“As these states actively attempt to suppress voter participation, corporations need to live up to their values and disavow racist attacks on our democracy,” Herrig added.

In Texas, SB 7 is one of several so-called election integrity bills making their way through the state Legislature. Civil rights groups, voter advocacy organizations, activists and Texas Democrats have roundly condemned the bills as voter suppression.

If passed into law, SB 7 would restrict how and when voters can cast their ballots, bar drive-thru voting and forbid election administrators from distributing mail-in voting applications, among other provisions.

The Senate has already passed the bill, and a similar bill in the state House, HB 6, was recently approved for a floor vote.

Voting watchdogs say the bills would disproportionately harm the rights of voters of color and those with disabilities, among others.

Exelon did not respond to a request for comment.

"We believe in actively participating in the political process," Oncor said in a statement via email.

"It’s in the best interest of our company, our shareholders and the communities and families we serve," Oncor added. "Political contributions are not based on party lines or individual issues. We will advocate for the needs of our company, industry and customers."

Contacted by the Observer, Brint Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer of Ryan LLC, said the report is "disingenuous garbage."

"To assume that I back every proposal made by every elected official we support is naïve," he said by email. "To look back at contributions made in the past and try to project them on to current legislative proposals is ethically bankrupt and completely disingenuous. That’s especially true when the only purpose is to smear companies for exercising their rights to participate in the political process."

Ryan said he doesn't agree with all of the proposed election reforms, but he also doesn't see the bills as genuine attempts to suppress votes.

"In the 21st century we should be able to achieve both very high election integrity along with the broadest and most convenient voting means possible," he added. "As long as the process is secure, people should be able to vote at Chick-fil-A for all I care."

But Dell and American Airlines have condemned SB 7 and HB 6, while AT&T, the second-largest corporate donor in Texas, indirectly criticized attempts to restrict voting.

Earlier this month, voting rights groups called on corporations to take a stand against the voting bills in Texas, as reported by Houston Public Media. Groups including MOVE Texas and Black Voters Matter said companies should pressure Republican lawmakers to abandon the bills.

According to the Accountable.US report, “controversial recipients” include state Sens. Charles Brandon Creighton and Bob Hall.

“As these states actively attempt to suppress voter participation, corporations need to live up to their values and disavow racist attacks on our democracy." - Kyle Herrig, Accountable.US

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Together, Exelon and Ryan LLC have donated $93,500 to Creighton, a Republican from Conroe. Hall, a self-described “constitutional conservative” from Rockwall, has received at least $7,500 from Ryan LLC.

Accountable.US singled out Creighton because he once backed a bill that would have prevented the removal of Confederate monuments.

Hall, on the other hand, won the watchdog’s attention because he once defended controversial Tea Party activist Ray Myers, a self-described white nationalist from Kaufman County.

Meanwhile, Exelon and Ryan LLC have given $35,000 to Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who has spearheaded seven election integrity bills this legislative session.

“These bills are designed to strengthen the integrity of the voter roll in Texas,” Bettencourt said in a press release. “The public needs to be able to trust that their local election officials are properly doing their jobs … and that the election code is being followed in all cases.”

Exelon, Oncor and Ryan LLC have forked over $45,750 to state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, while Exelon and Oncor have given a combined total of more than $50,000 state Sen. Brian Birdwell.

After former President Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden last November, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared “election integrity” an emergency item this legislative session.

Many Texas Republicans echoed Trump's claims that the election was rigged, but no evidence of widespread voter fraud was ever produced.

During a press conference in March, Abbott said his objective is “to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote and that only eligible ballots are counted.”

"In the 2020 election, we witnessed actions throughout our state that could risk the integrity of our elections and enable voter fraud, which is why I made election integrity an emergency item this session,” the governor added.

But Emily Ebb, a staff attorney at Texas Civil Rights Project, recently told the Observer that the bills would strip many voters of their ability to safely cast their ballots.

“The people who have been in power for a long time are scared they can't compete with the ideas, so they're trying to compete with the turnout,” Ebb said.
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.