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AT&T under fire for donating to lawmakers who supported bill

Women’s rights advocates participate in the nationwide Women’s March, held after Texas rolled out a near-total ban on abortion procedures and access to abortion-inducing medications, in Austin, Texas, U.S., October 2, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

A Democratic super PAC headed by a former president of Planned Parenthood is set to unleash ads targeting Dallas-based AT&T for backing Texas lawmakers who sponsored the new state law that effectively outlaws abortion after six weeks.

American Bridge, which backed Joe Biden in the 2020 campaign, will be running an ad in the digital version of The Dallas Morning News starting Tuesday. A TV ad taking aim at AT&T is expected to run in Texas in the coming days, a PAC representative told CNBC.

The Texas abortion law, officially known as SB 8, also allows private citizens to sue people who are performing abortions in the state. It also gives private citizens the opportunity to sue anyone who assists people who receive an abortion. Biden’s Department of Justice sued the state of Texas over the law after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect last month.

The PAC also intends to soon run a similar ad in Florida, where a Republican lawmaker recently introduced a bill that echoes what Texas’ law does, a person familiar with the matter said. This person declined to be identified since the Florida ad is set to be announced at a later date.

Both the TV and digital newspaper ads say Corporate Accountability Action paid for the ads. Corporate Accountability Action is a project of American Bridge, the PAC spokesperson said.

“AT&T helped fund the anti-abortion politicians who wrote the dangerous law,” says a copy of the digital ad set to be placed with the online version of The Dallas Morning News. A picture of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is depicted on screen.

The ad also calls on voters to “Tell @ATT to get #Offthebanwagon” and to urge the company to “stop funding ant-abortion extremists in Texas.” Abbott is up for reelection in 2022 and could end up facing Beto O’Rourke, who ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 cycle after narrowly losing to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas’ 2018 U.S. Senate race.

The online news outlet Popular Information reports that AT&T is one of the top donors to state lawmakers who co-sponsored the anti-abortion bill. Since 2018, AT&T has given more than $300,000 to the co-sponsors of the bill, according to Popular Information’s reporting.

Feminist group UltraViolet says nearly a dozen primary sponsors of SB 8 have recently seen over $100,000 from corporate donors, including AT&T.

An AT&T spokesman told CNBC the company has never taken a position on abortion and has no immediate plans to change that policy. The representative also noted that AT&T also contributed to the campaigns of lawmakers who opposed the bill.

“AT&T has never taken a position on the issue of abortion, and the Texas legislation was no exception.  AT&T did not endorse nor support passage of Senate Bill 8 in the Texas legislature,” the spokesman said in an email on Monday. “AT&T’s employee political action committees have never based contribution decisions on a legislator’s positions on the issue of abortion, and employee PAC contributions to Texas legislators went to both opponents and supporters of Senate Bill 8.”

Popular Information listed CNBC parent Comcast/NBC Universal as another corporate donor to some of the bill’s sponsors. A person familiar with the matter noted that since 2018, the media company has given over $120,000 to campaigns of lawmakers who opposed the bill, totaling more than the donations to lawmakers who supported it. This person declined to be named in order to speak freely.

Cecile Richards, a co-chair of American Bridge and former president of Planned Parenthood, hinted in a statement to CNBC that these spots are just the beginning.

“This abortion ban – part of the Republican plan to make reproductive health care completely out-of-reach – is devastating, which is why companies that backed the lawmakers responsible for this cannot be permitted to bury their heads in the sand,” Richards told CNBC in a statement.

“By funding politicians that have made clear their disdain for reproductive freedom, corporations are giving lawmakers across the country the green light to ban essential health services while giving lip service to ‘equity’ and ’empowerment.’ We cannot let this go on, which is why it’s so important to call out their hypocrisy and stop them from continuing to harm people,” she said.

The super PAC spent over $85 million and raised almost an equal during the 2020 presidential election, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Over $50 million of that went toward taking aim at former President Donald Trump.

Top donors to American Bridge during that cycle include the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a nonprofit dark money group that does not publicly disclose their donors, longtime investors Reid Hoffman and Josh Bekenstein, and legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, according to CRP data.

The PAC’s decision to place an ad with The Dallas Morning News comes as the paper says digital numbers have improved at its parent company.

“Circulation revenue increased 2.4% with digital-only subscribers sales up 52.3%, which offset a 2.4% decline in home delivery and a 7.6% decline in single-copy sale,” the paper said in July. “The News added 3,528 digital subscriptions to end the second quarter with 52,930 digital subscribers, up 21.4% from a year ago.”

As of July, Agility PR ranked the Dallas Morning News as the number one newspaper in Texas by circulation.

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2021-10-04 15:16:57

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