Nearly 200 companies joined the fight last year against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, signing on to public protests and affirming their commitment to LGBT rights.
But some of those same companies, mainly through their political action committees, contributed money to the campaigns of lawmakers who voted for the law and the governor who signed it.
PACs representing a half-dozen companies gave almost $200,000 to North Carolina lawmakers who voted for HB2, according to an Observer analysis.
Some support was less direct.
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Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer gave $600,000 to the Republican Governors Association. The RGA in turn spent $3.6 million on behalf of former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. Pfizer also gave $170,000 to a GOP group that spent almost a million dollars to re-elect Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a vocal HB2 supporter.
When it passed last March, HB2 created a national backlash.
Critics said the law, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings, discriminates against the LGBT community. Many companies took a stand in protest.
To be sure, many PACs and executives who publicly opposed HB2 also gave to Democrats and McCrory’s opponent, Roy Cooper. And companies, like individuals, have multiple interests. Bank of America’s PAC, for example, gave $2,000 to GOP and Democratic caucuses in the House and the Senate.
“We interact on a bipartisan basis with public officials on a range of topics,” said spokesman Dan Frahm. “And we have been public and consistent with our support for repeal of HB2.”
Gay rights advocates say contributors should consider a candidate’s stand on HB2.
“We strongly encourage companies committed to leading the way forward to include LGBTQ legal equality among the priorities they consider when they’re supporting candidates,” said Stephen Peters, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group.
One Charlotte transgender activist, however, criticized the donations.
“That’s hypocritical if they say they’re supporters,” said Erica Lachowitz.
Last spring the HRC released a list of 130 companies and CEOs opposed to the law. Most of those companies – including prominent names such as Starbucks, Facebook, Apple, IBM and Kellogg’s – have no PACs registered in North Carolina and don’t routinely get involved in N.C. campaigns.
Among those that do, a half-dozen PACs had given $192,000 to McCrory and Republican lawmakers who voted for HB2 through September, the last reports available. Final reports are due this month.
New York-based Pfizer, which has a manufacturing plant in Sanford, gave $25,000 to GOP lawmakers through its PAC in addition to the company’s contributions to the RGA and the Republican State Leadership Committee. The RSLC spent $850,000 on behalf of Forest.
“We contribute to policymakers from both sides of the aisle based on their stance on issues that impact patient access to innovative medicines and vaccines,” said spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.
“Our contributions are not based on a policy maker’s position on any social, religious or political issue. To suggest otherwise is both inaccurate and misleading.”
Wells Fargo’s PAC gave at least $61,700 to lawmakers who supported HB2.
Asked about the contributions, Wells offered a statement saying, “Gov. McCrory and other elected officials were well aware of our opposition to HB2.”
PACs for Merck, Pepsico and Time Warner Cable also gave to McCrory or lawmakers who voted for HB2.
The PAC for Merck, which has two state manufacturing facilities, gave McCrory and GOP lawmakers at least $41,000. Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier signed the HRC’s letter protesting HB2.
“Our company is committed to participating constructively and responsibly in the political process,” Merck spokeswoman Lanie Keller said in a statement. “The PAC supports legislators from both major parties who understand and appreciate the work we do …
“Our chairman and CEO … joined corporate leaders across the country in signing open letters that urge lawmakers in North Carolina to repeal HB2, because it sanctions discriminatory practices.”
The Observer also looked at contributions through September from employees of the roughly 185 companies that publicly denounced HB2.
Workers for at least 33 companies donated to North Carolina’s Republican Party or party leaders after the bill was signed. McCrory received more than $54,000, the Observer found. Employees making donations ranged from secretaries and accountants to professors and social workers. Some were retired.
Workers at 65 of the companies gave to Cooper or the Democratic Party. Cooper received some $313,000 and the party, $344,000.
Individuals give money for reasons of their own, including their party affiliation. Companies also give for a variety of reasons. For many it’s access. Campaign contributions typically flow to those in positions of power.
“(Companies) have multiple interests,” said Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at UNC Charlotte. “If they think Republicans are going to be more helpful to them on taxes or regulations they still have an incentive to support them, even if they disagree on social issues or things like HB2.”
HB2 has been blamed for the loss of jobs, sporting events and millions in lost visitor spending. Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said companies and their PACs should see the law as an economic issue.
“Doing business in a state like North Carolina is that much harder when candidates actively work against LGBT equality,” he said.
Staff writer Deon Roberts contributed.
Some PACs whose affiliated companies publicly opposed HB2 contributed to N.C. Republican lawmakers who passed it and to former Gov. Pat McCrory. Here are some, along with company executives who signed an open letter from the Human Rights Campaign protesting the law.
Bank of America PAC
▪ PAC gave $2,000 each to GOP House and Senate caucus.
▪ HRC letter signed by: Brian Moynihan, CEO.
▪ PAC gave $61,700 to lawmakers who voted for HB2
▪ HRC letter signed by: then-Chairman and CEO John Stumpf
Time Warner Cable
▪ PAC gave $49,300 to McCrory and lawmakers who voted for HB2.
▪ HRC letter signed by: Rob Marcus, Chairman and CEO.
▪ PAC gave $41,550 to McCrory and lawmakers who voted for HB2.
▪ HRC letter signed by: CEO Kenneth C. Frazier.
▪ PAC gave $25,000 to McCrory and lawmakers who voted for HB2. Company gave $600,000 to RGA, which helped McCrory and $170,000 to a GOP group that spent $850,000 on behalf of GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, an HB2 supporter.
▪ HRC letter signed by: Charles H. Hill III, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Human Resources; Laurie J. Olson, EVP, Strategy, Portfolio and Commercial Operations.