- Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald's are vocally supporting LGBTQ people this Pride Month.
- The same three companies collectively donated $1 million-plus to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act.
- Companies donate to both Republicans and Democrats, even lawmakers they say they disagree with.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
As brands take to Twitter to celebrate Pride, many of the same companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who voted against expanded LGBTQ protections.
In February, the vast majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the Equality Act, which aims to expand LGBTQ protections. SEC filings show that some of the best-known companies in the US, including McDonald's, Walmart, and Amazon, have donated significant sums to politicians who voted against the bill.
Most major companies donate to both parties via political action committees, historically giving more to Republicans. (Industry PACs supported by these organizations also donate to both parties, but tend to skew even further right.) In recent years, many companies' PACs – including Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald's – have moved toward a 50/50 split between Democrat and Republican donations.
Companies donate to politicians' campaigns hoping to influence lawmakers on legislation that might impact business, from immigration to minimum wages.
As a result, these industry giants have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who are pushing for legislation that protects LGBTQ rights, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians actively working to defeat the same bills.
Companies are increasingly caught between a desire to pursue bipartisan political alliances through donations and expectations that they support progressive social causes. Now, some are being forced to change their strategies.
Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald's collectively donated over $1 million to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act
From 2019 to 2020, Walmart's PAC donated $1.2 million to federal candidates, according to an Insider analysis of FEC data via the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations were exactly an even split – $596,000 to Republicans and $596,000 to Democrats. All but three Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the Equality Act, saying it could infringe on religious freedom. That means Walmart donated nearly $400,000 to politicians opposing the bill.
Meanwhile, the company's Twitter avatar is currently rainbow hued, and the retailer is selling a collection of Pride merchandise. A Walmart spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Amazon has supported the Equality Act since 2015, with Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy, writing in a post in February that "now is the time for federal law to protect LGBTQ+ Americans across the country."
At the same time, the company's PAC split donations from 2019 to 2020, donating $659,000 to Democratic candidates and $648,500 to Republicans. More than $460,000 of those donations went to politicians who voted against the Equality Act.
An Amazon spokesperson told Insider that the company "engages with policymakers and regulators on a wide range of issues that affect our business, customers, and employees."
"That does not mean we agree with any individual or political organization 100 percent of the time on every issue, and this includes legislation that discriminates or encourages discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community," the spokesperson continued.
Fast-food PACs have also donated to Republicans in the House of Representatives who oppose the Equality Act. From 2019 to 2020, McDonald's PAC donated a total of $213,000 to lawmakers who voted against the bill. Earlier this week, the company tweeted: "We're proud of you. And you should be proud of you, too."
-McDonald's Corporation (@McDonaldsCorp) June 1, 2021
Companies are changing how they approach political donations
In 2021, more brands are openly supporting LGBTQ people and celebrating Pride on social media than ever before.
Simultaneously, the US is seeing an explosion of anti-trans bills. Lawmakers are not simply voting against expanding protections for LGBTQ people, they are trying to pass new laws that advocates say will harm vulnerable individuals.
"These are organized anti-transgender forces, people who are ideologically anti-transgender, who are trying to push this everywhere that they can," trans advocate Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen told Insider in April. "So it's coordinated, it's deliberate, and it is all about using trans people and especially trans youth as a political football."
Employees and customers increasingly expect companies to uphold progressive social values, including vocal support of LGBTQ people. But, companies typically don't want to surrender the chance to engage with politicians on both sides of the aisle.
However, companies are being forced to change their practices. Walmart and Amazon paused donations to lawmakers who opposed certifying President Joe Biden's win in January, following the Capitol insurrection. McDonald's paused all political donations in January, and its PAC has not donated to any lawmakers since, according to FEC filings.
In 2021, it is increasingly difficult for companies to say they support a cause, while donating to politicians who vote for laws that indicate the opposite. Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University professor, told Insider earlier this year that – in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests – brands like McDonald's had assumed that tweeting support would satisfy most people.
"What they probably didn't anticipate was we are at a moment where people ask for more," Chatelain said. "They ask for more than donations. They ask for more than diversity-pipeline programs. They ask for more than skillful marketing. They actually ask for racial and economic justice."