Delta Donates to Sponsors of Georgia Voting Bill After Calling it 'Unacceptable'

New disclosures reveal the company's PAC donations do not align with its public statements.

Delta Donates to Sponsors of Georgia Voting Bill After Calling it 'Unacceptable'

In March of last year, Georgia Republican lawmakers set off a national debate over voting rights when they passed a omnibus elections law that places new restrictions on absentee voting, including a requirement that people who request and submit mail-in ballots must provide a driver’s license or state ID number, or produce some other form of identification.

Democratic politicians and voting rights groups slammed the law, SB 202, as a voter suppression effort and argued that the ID requirement would prevent some otherwise eligible voters from casting ballots. The law also limits the use of ballot drop boxes and empowers the State Elections Board to take over local election boards that they deem to be underperforming. Another provision bans people from giving any gifts to voters waiting in line, including food or drinks. Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, told NPR, “We know that in Georgia and too many other places, those long lines to vote are in Black communities and communities of color.”

The day after SB 202 was signed into law, Delta Airlines, which is headquartered in the state, put out a statement saying that the company’s lobbyist had been involved in discussion around the bill and celebrating provisions in it that may increase ballot access, like expanded early voting hours in some counties. Voting rights advocates responded by calling for a boycott of the company, and soon the hashtag #BoycottDelta was a trending topic on Twitter. 

That pressure inspired Delta to change its tune and on March 31 the company’s CEO Ed Bastian released a statement that was sharply critical of the new law. 

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” wrote Bastian. “The right to vote is sacred. It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner.” 

The statement succeeded at defusing the situation and the calls for boycotts fizzled out. However, new campaign finance records suggest that the company may not have truly had a change of heart as it continued to financially back the bill’s Republican sponsors after putting out its statement. Sludge reviewed the disclosures and found that at least five of the SB 202 sponsors recently received donations from Delta’s PAC. 

Three bill sponsors—Sens. Lawrence Walker, Mike Dugan, and Jeff Mullis—each received $2,500 from Delta PAC in December 2021, while sponsors Sen. Matt Brass and Frank Ginn reported receiving a $1,000 donation from Delta PAC that month.

Sen. Brass has alleged that the 2020 election results in his state had been manipulated by fraud. “They cheated. Plain and simple. And the mounting evidence shows just that,” Brass wrote on Facebook on Nov. 7, 2020. Delta CEO Bastian was particularly critical of claims like Brass’ in his statement against the bill. “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true,” Bastian said. “Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.

Sludge asked Delta for comment on its recent donations to Brass and other Georgia bill sponsors but did not receive a response. 

The website Popular Information reported last year that Delta and other major companies had donated to several of the SB 202 sponsors in the years prior to when they drafted the bill. 

Other Companies Donate After Statements

Coca-Cola, another Georgia-based company, also put out a statement against the voting law after facing calls for a boycott. 

“The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier,” said CEO James Quincey in a March 31 statement to the New York Times.  Quincey made a similar statement on CNBC that day, saying the law was “unacceptable” and “a step backwards.”

Then, from August through December, Coca-Cola’s executives, lobbyists, and attorneys donated a combined $37,552 to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law and defended it against criticism from President Joe Biden and others. The donors include Coca-Cola United President and CEO John Sherman, Coca-Cola President of North American Operations Christina Ruggerio, and Coca-Cola Chief of Public Affairs Joanna Price. 

Several other companies donated to the Georgia bill sponsors through their PACs after putting out statements against the Georgia law or against state Republicans’ voting reform bills in general.

AT&T did not specifically reference the Georgia law, but on April 1, 2021 put out a statement from CEO John Stankey that said, “We believe 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.”

From April to the end of the year, AT&T Georgia PAC donated a combined at least $14,800 to at least five of the bill sponsors plus Kemp. Receiving donations were Senators Jeff Mullis, John Albers, Larry Walker, Mike Dugan, and Matt Brass.

AT&T also donated to the Republican sponsors of restrictive voting bills in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma, Sludge previously reported. The donations were made after the bills became law and after the company released its statement. 

Comcast PAC donated to three of the Georgia voting bill’s sponsors after the company put out a statement against voter suppression measures: Sens. Walker, Mullis, and Albers. In April, in the wake of the controversy over the Georgia law, Comcast had said in a statement: “We believe that all Americans should enjoy equitable access to secure elections and we have long supported and promoted voter education, registration and participation campaigns across the country to achieve that goal. Efforts to limit or impede access to this vital constitutional right for any citizen are not consistent with our values.”  

A handful of SB 202’s 23 Senate sponsors appear to be late in filing their year-end campaign finance reports with the state, so it’s possible that Delta and the other companies mentioned in this report may have made more donations to sponsors than this report indicates.

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