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When Texas Democrats staged a walkout at the end of the regular legislative session in late May, they successfully killed Republicans’ prized bill: a slew of restrictions on voting statewide. Or that’s how it seemed at the time, at least.
Less than three weeks later, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session specifically aimed at passing an equivalent version of the so-called election integrity bill alongside other conservative legislative priorities.
The same day Abbott announced his plan for the special session, AT&T, whose CEO has said the company supports expanding voting rights nationwide, gave Abbott $100,000 to fund his reelection campaign.
This week, the Washington-based watchdog Accountable.US published a report that showed AT&T’s contributions to Abbott’s campaign stands out as the largest among its donations to state lawmakers. The telecommunications behemoth has contributed to several state lawmakers who back voting restrictions.
The GOP-backed proposals are part of a nationwide wave of new voting laws that followed President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of mass voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. “What’s happening in Texas is the latest shoe to drop in a wide-scale voter suppression scheme carried out by desperate and dishonest embracers of the Big Lie,” said Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig.
Texas activists say they’ve long called on AT&T to put its money where its mouth is, or at least not spend it in a way that directly contradicts its public statements on voting rights.
The progressive Texas Organizing Project (TOP), for instance, has rallied alongside the Communications Workers of America, the labor union that represents many AT&T employees, and urged the company to stop bankrolling politicians “who support voter suppression,” said Devin Branch, TOP’s lead organizer.
“Republicans have been in control of the Legislature, and because they’re now losing elections, they’d like to choose their electorate, as opposed to allowing the electorate to choose their representatives,” Branch added. “They’re seeking to deny and reduce the effective power of Black and Latino voters so that they can maintain their hold on political power.”
Between 2015 and April this year, AT&T gave $811,000 to state legislators who have tried to clamp down on voting access across the country, according to Public Citizen, a progressive watchdog group. That sum made AT&T the single largest corporate donor to GOP lawmakers pushing restrictive voting bills.
In April, AT&T CEO John Stankey told The Hill that the company believes “the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”
In an email, an AT&T spokesperson said, “Our employee PACs contribute to policymakers in both major parties, and it will not agree with every PAC dollar recipient on every issue. It is likely our employee PACs have contributed to policymakers in support of and opposed to any given issue.”
Abbott and Texas Republicans have defended the legislation, insisting that it’s necessary to protect the “integrity” of elections. In a video released last week, Abbott claimed the bills were about “making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
Republican lawmakers in Texas are pushing to pass Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3. If signed into law, both bills would stop large numbers of Black and Latino people from casting votes in future elections, advocates say.
SB 1, for example, contains provisions that would eliminate drive-through and 24-hour voting. Both options were introduced in Harris County, the most populous and most diverse in the state, during the 2020 presidential election, and were used mostly by Black and Latino voters.
“What you see is a diverse county finding ways to make it easier for their communities of color to get out and participate in democracy, and the Texas Legislature’s reaction is to then ban those processes,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
With more than two weeks potentially remaining in the special legislative session, which is on hold thanks to Democratic House members’ decision to head out of state, Buser-Clancy emphasized that Texans still have time to tell lawmakers what they think about the proposed voting bills.
“It’s not a done deal that something like this will be passed,” said Buser-Clancy. “There’s still time for people to let it be known that they oppose bills like this.”
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