By Stephen Neukam, The Texas Tribune
“After suspending political donations post-insurrection, AT&T and Valero fund election-deniers in the midterms” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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WASHINGTON — After the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, a number of corporate political action committees, including Dallas-based AT&T, declared that they would pause support for candidates who voted to object to the certification of the 2020 election.
But this election cycle, those companies and several other corporations have lavished funds on Texas Republicans who voted against certifying the election in 2020, plus a handful of new candidates who continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency. On the day of the insurrection, 17 Texans in Congress voted against certifying the election results — including Sen. Ted Cruz, who is not up for reelection this year, and 16 House members. (Of the House members, Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Tyler, is not seeking reelection, and Rep. Ron Wright, of Arlington, died in February 2021.) Many of those candidates continue to cast doubt on the election results, which have been affirmed by multiple audits, court decisions and even members of former President Donald Trump’s administration.
This year in Texas, AT&T-affiliated PACs have given at least $28,500 to lawmakers who objected to the certification of the 2020 election. Those lawmakers who received the funds are Republican Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, John Carter of Round Rock, Roger Williams of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Pete Sessions of Waco, Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Ronny Jackson of Amarillo and Lance Gooden of Terrell.
AT&T said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that its employee PACs donated to candidates in both parties focusing “on policies and regulations that are important to investing in broadband networks.”
“A contribution to an elected official does not mean our employee PACs support or agree with every position the official takes,” an AT&T spokesperson said.
Asked about their previous position to withhold funding from candidates who objected to the election results, the spokesperson said: “Our employee PAC suspended contributions to those lawmakers’ campaigns for more than a year.”
Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonprofit pro-democracy group based in Austin, said he understood that companies needed to make political donations to advocate for their business interests. But while many corporations have donated to candidates in both parties, Gutierrez warned of the dangers of propping up election deniers.
“I do wish they would realize that if we don’t have a functioning democracy, their interests are not going to matter as much,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to be really hard for you to be fruitful and have successful companies if our democracy is just falling apart at the seams because the people in office are election deniers.”
Valero Energy said after the insurrection that it would halt its political contributions and had “no plans to resume them over the next few months.” This election cycle, Valero donated at least $37,500 to nine lawmakers who voted to object to the counting of some electors. Valero did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Association of Realtors also paused political contributions in January 2021 but decided to resume their donations a few months later. The organization donated at least $58,000 in the last three months to 14 lawmakers that voted against certifying the 2020 election.
The National Association of Realtors told the Tribune its success as an organization was driven by their support of issues and “not a single political party.”
“When power changes, as it always will, we have champions on both sides of the aisle,” an official from the organization said.
A number of other companies have also helped fund the U.S. House candidates in Texas who have denied the results of the 2020 election. FiveThirtyEight identified 21 Republican congressional candidates as the most egregious offenders of election denialism. These Republican candidates include 14 U.S. House incumbents who voted against certifying the election results and seven congressional candidates who have publicly questioned the result of the election. They have collectively raised a total of $9.4 million between June and October, according to federal campaign finance data.
Other corporations who supported those candidates include Toyota-affiliated PACs which contributed a total of at least $20,000 to eight of the candidates. ExxonMobil’s PAC also contributed a total of at least $13,500 to five candidates.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said the company’s PAC was “non-partisan” and emphasized that the company congratulated President Joe Biden on his election in November 2020.
And 13 of the candidates were also boosted by nearly $80,000 from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby group.
The 21 candidates identified by FiveThirtyEight for their votes against certifying the election include Republican Reps. Troy Nehls of Richmond, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, Pat Fallon of Sherman, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Brian Babin of Woodville, Sessions, Carter, Van Duyne, Arrington, Gooden, Cloud, Williams and Jackson. Rep. Mayra Flores of Los Indios, another Republican incumbent, was also included on the list. She won in a special election but was not yet serving on Jan. 6, 2021. It also includes Republican challengers like Monica De La Cruz, Carmen Montiel, Irene Armendariz-Jackson, Jenny Garcia Sharon, Keith Self and Morgan Luttrell, who have cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election in public statements and appearances.
Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL, said at a February debate that he would not have voted to certify the Pennsylvania and Arizona results of the 2020 election. De La Cruz, a Trump-backed candidate, suggested in 2020 when she lost her race, without evidence, that she and the former president were both victims of voter fraud.
Most of the candidates did not respond to requests for comments about this story.
But De La Cruz rebuffed the idea that she was an election denier, telling the Tribune that Biden was “duly elected as president of the United States.”
“I trust our Constitutional process, the voters of my community, and I am confident we will be victorious in November.”
Montiel, who is running in Texas’ 18th Congressional district and is not favored to win, doubled down on denying the results of the 2020 election in an interview with The Texas Tribune, latching onto a debunked theory that more people voted in 2020 than were registered.
Disclosure: AT&T, Common Cause, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Valero have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/10/26/att-valero-pacs-midterms/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.