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Arkansas passed 2 of the most brutal laws targeting trans kids in the US. These pro-LGBTQ companies pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lawmakers behind it.

Business Insider logo Business Insider 6/21/2021 mhall@businessinsider.com (Madison Hall,Walt Hickey)
a person wearing a costume: Insider discovered many of the key financial backers of the Arkansas legislators who sponsored anti-trans laws are companies that are publicly pro-LGBT. Walmart; AT&T; McDonald's; ExxonMobil; State Farm; Samantha Lee/Insider © Walmart; AT&T; McDonald's; ExxonMobil; State Farm; Samantha Lee/Insider Insider discovered many of the key financial backers of the Arkansas legislators who sponsored anti-trans laws are companies that are publicly pro-LGBT. Walmart; AT&T; McDonald's; ExxonMobil; State Farm; Samantha Lee/Insider
  • Arkansas legislators recently passed the most restrictive laws in the nation against trans children.
  • Insider investigated the campaign finance records of all 76 lawmakers who sponsored the legislation.
  • Several visibly LGBT-friendly companies, or PACs representing them, gave money to the laws' sponsors.

State legislatures have introduced and passed a number of bills in the past several months that take aim at transgender teens and children. But only Arkansas has gone so far as to pass legislation that specifically aims to remove access to medical care and punish those who treat trans youth.

Insider pored through campaign finance records from the Arkansas Secretary of State for the 22 state senators and 54 members of the Arkansas house who sponsored House Bill 1570 or Senate Bill 354. We then digitized the records to identify key corporate supporters.

After analyzing all reports filed since the beginning of 2018, we discovered many of the key financial backers of the legislators who sponsored the anti-trans legislation are companies that otherwise avow to be pro-LGBT.

The political action committees (PACs) behind Walmart, State Farm agents, McDonald's franchisees, AT&T, ExxonMobil, and more were among the corporate supporters. When reached for comment, the companies' reactions ranged from silence to reviewing future donations to defense of their actions.

HB 1570, filed in February of this year, makes it a felony for physicians to perform gender-affirming treatment, such as hormones or puberty blockers, to young trans people. The legislation also bans trans youth from receiving trans-related surgeries, though no licensed doctors in the country perform gender-affirming surgeries to people younger than 18.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed HB 1570 on April 5 after meeting with two trans women.

"The bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather those who are under hormone treatment," Hutchinson said in a press conference after his veto. "I want people in Arkansas and across the country to understand that whether they're transgender or otherwise, that they're loved, they're appreciated, they make part of our state, and we want to send the message of tolerance and diversity."

But on April 6, both chambers of Arkansas' legislature voted to override Hutchinson's veto, ushering HB 1570 into law with a simple majority in each chamber.

SB 354, also filed in Feburary, bars trans women from playing on women's intramural, interscholastic, intercollegiate, or club athletic teams. The bill passed with little resistance - 75% "yea" votes in the house and 80% support in the senate - and Hutchinson signed it into law.

"There is a coordinated campaign being waged in state legislatures around the country targeting transgender youth," Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Trans Equality, told Insider. "Politicians, hoping to gain political advantage, are giving people permission to discriminate against trans kids who are just trying to live their lives as themselves."

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Walmart: $58,100

Walmart, the largest company in Arkansas, boasts of numerous sponsorships of Pride events across the country and has an entire "Pride & Joy" shop featuring products that "welcome everyone to be their authentic selves-always."

The company earned a 100% rating on the 2021 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, and ranked sixth on Diversity Inc's list of companies that support LGBT employees. Their HRC score included a flawless 40 out of 40 in the section "Supporting an Inclusive Culture & Corporate Social Responsibility," and didn't sustain any penalty in the "Responsible Citizenship" category.

Despite this, the retail giant pumped tens of thousands of dollars to the Arkansas legislators who sponsored the two anti-trans bills.

Walmart Inc PAC For a Responsible Government gave $58,100 to the legislators behind the Arkansas bills targeting transgender children over the period analyzed. Jim Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, has also given $56,425 to the sponsors of HB 1570 and SB 354 since 2018.

"We've made no political contributions in 2021 and nothing since that bill was introduced. So those contributions came before the introduction of those bills. We examine and we adjust our political giving strategy every election cycle and that is ongoing," said Randy Hargrove, the senior director of national media relations at Walmart.

Walton's contributions made Arvest Bank, which is owned by the Walton family but operated separately from Walmart, the listed employer for $31,500 worth of contributions, and the bank's corporate PAC pumped $14,500 to the bill sponsors.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the bank said, "As a company, we paused all political contributions in January and any future contributions will be carefully vetted to ensure they support Arvest's values. Arvest strives to create an environment where all people - our customers, associates and the public at large - are respected and feel valued."

Steuart Walton, a director of Walmart who also helms Runway Group, an investment firm, gave $16,600 to the sponsors of the anti-trans bills since 2018, according to campaign finance records. All told, self-identified employees of Runway Group gave $23,600 to the sponsors of the bills.

"We work every day to make Northwest Arkansas the best place to live and we're fully committed to that goal," said Runway Group VP of corporate and community affairs Mike Malone. "We are concerned with some recent legislation in the state, however we remain committed to working with all community stakeholders - including legislators on both sides of the aisle-to advocate for a safe and inclusive environment for all Arkansans."

Stephens Inc CEO and founder Warren Stephens gave $105,050 to 65 sponsors of anti-trans legislation since 2018, making him the fourth-highest contributor to the group of legislators in the entire set and the single largest individual, non-PAC contributor to the group in the state.

Stephens, a financial institution best known for backing Walmart's early expansion, said in an emailed statement: "Warren Stephens makes political contributions to both Republicans and Democrats in Arkansas. The contributions made to legislators in 2019 and 2020 precede House Bill 1570 and Senate Bill 354 - neither of which had been proposed during that cycle. This is an important distinction. No political contributions have been made in 2021."

Asked if the contributions would continue following the passage of the bills, Stephens Executive Vice President Chenoa Taitt told Insider: "We respectfully decline to comment further. Thanks."

McDonald's franchisees: $35,000

McDonald's obtained a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign's 2021 Corporate Equality Index and has an entire Instagram account touting its Pride Month activities. Meanwhile, in Arkansas, the McDonald's Local Owner Operators of Arkansas PAC gave $35,000 to 52 of the sponsors of the anti-trans legislation since 2018.

McDonald's didn't reply to Insider's request for comment.

Koch Industries: $72,000

Koch Industries' PAC was the largest corporate contributor to the sponsors of HB 1570 and SB 354, steering $72,000 to 10 Senate and 34 House sponsors of the bills since 2018.

"KOCHPAC supports candidates who will advance market-based policies at the local, state and national levels," David Dziok, director of communications marketing at Koch Industries, said in a statement. "To that end, we did not engage on these bills in Arkansas. Moreover, in general, not seeing eye to eye with a lawmaker on one issue will not preclude us from engaging with that lawmaker on others."

State Farm agents: $70,200

In 2020, State Farm Insurance was named one of the Best Companies to Create Inclusive Workplaces. Their website says they work with a number of advocacy groups and charities, including the Human Rights Campaign, that benefit LGBT rights.

The Arkansas State Farm Association PAC gave $70,200 to all but five of the sponsors of the two bills, with the insurance agents coming in just below Koch Industries in their financial largesse to the sponsors of the bills.

The PAC is separate from the national State Farm company, though the most recent campaign finance filings available indicate all officers of the PAC are State Farm agents within the state of Arkansas, with annual filings indicating the PAC exists to advocate for State Farm agents and employees within the state.

"There are a number of states where groups of independent contractor State Farm agents have formed PACs," State Farm public affairs specialist Michal Brower told Insider. "These PACs are independent of State Farm and are fully managed, funded, and operated by their members in each respective state. Each State Farm agent office is operated by the independent contractor agent. Agents and their staff are not employees of State Farm."

Compared to every other donor, PAC or individual, the State Farm Agents PAC was the 11th highest contributor to the sponsors of the two bills targeting transgender minors.

"State Farm does have a Federal PAC (SFF PAC), which allows our employees and agents to collectively provide funds to individual candidates across party lines," Brower added. "The SFF PAC does not provide contributions to state-level candidates or legislators in Arkansas, past or present."

ExxonMobil: $36,750

Oil major ExxonMobil, which received a score of 85 from the Human Rights Campaign and suffered no penalty for "responsible citizenship," had its corporate PAC pump $36,750 to the sponsors of the bills targeting trans kids.

"ExxonMobil's contributions to legislators are to be used for campaign purposes. We did not contribute to support any specific Arkansas legislation, and to imply that would be false," said Casey Norton, corporate media relations at Exxon.

"We continually review all contributions. Past contributions do not indicate that that ExxonMobil will contribute again in the future."

AT&T: $26,450

AT&T is a National Corporate Founder of HRC's foundation with a flawless score of 100 on the corporate equality index, and the group rated it as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ equality in 2021.

The telecomm giant's Arkansas Employee PAC contributed $26,450 to the legislative sponsors of the pair of bills that targeted transgender children in Arkansas.

AT&T declined to comment.

Health insurance companies: over $57,400

A number of health-related groups contributed substantial amounts of money to the bills, one of which stripped access to healthcare.

The PAC behind UnitedHealthGroup (HRC corporate equality index score of 100) contributed $23,650. They did not respond for a request to comment. Delta Dental's PAC gave $20,500, and did not respond to a request for comment. Merck (HRC corporate equality index score of 100) had its PAC give $13,250.

"In establishing our PAC political giving priorities, our Contributions Committee prioritizes candidates who endorse policies that support innovation and enhance patients' access to healthcare," said a Merck spokesperson. "We certainly do not agree with every position that every recipient of PAC support takes on every important social and business issue."

"Recently, we have taken the opportunity to review again the governance of our PAC. The PAC's Contributions Committee already consists of a diverse group of leaders from across our organization, and we have recently broadened the membership to include additional employee representatives, including our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer."

Large railways: $96,250 combined

BNSF Railway's PAC gave $67,500 to the sponsors of the bills.

After two same-sex couples sued BNSF in 2013, accusing the company of failing to provide medical benefits, the National Railway Labor Conference agreed two days later to start paying for them.

BNSF Railway didn't respond to Insider's requests for comment on its PAC contributions.

Rival railroad Union Pacific Corp, which achieved a score of 95 from the Human Rights Campaign, gave $28,750 to the sponsors of the bills.

"Union Pacific, through its Fund for Effective Government (FFEG) PAC, provides donations on the federal and state levels," Kristen South, Union Pacific's senior director of corporate communications and media relations, told Insider in a statement. "We consider a variety of factors when considering who to support and do not expect that we will always be aligned on every issue."

"Union Pacific's stance on these issues is clear as a proud member of the Business Coalition for the Equality Act and most recently signing the statement against anti-LGBT legislation in the states," South added.

Entergy: $32,750

Entergy's CEO signed The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion and the utility company achieved a score of 90 on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, with perfect marks in the inclusive culture and social responsibility section.

Since 2018, Entergy's PAC has given $32,750 to the sponsors of the two Arkansas bills.

"Our employee-run Political Action Committee, ENPAC, engages in the political process to inform elected officials and candidates about policy issues important to the electric utility industry or that may have an impact on Entergy's customers and communities," Entergy spokesman Neal Kirby told Insider. "We may not necessarily agree with every position that recipients of ENPAC support take on all issues, but ENPAC strives to use reasoned and consistent criteria in making contribution decisions."

LGBTQ groups react

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: People take part in the inaugural Gay Pride festival in support of the LGBT community in Batesville, Arkansas, on June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart © REUTERS/Jim Urquhart People take part in the inaugural Gay Pride festival in support of the LGBT community in Batesville, Arkansas, on June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

When reached for comment for this story, the Human Rights Campaign declined.

"Corporations can't celebrate Pride with us in June and expect us to look the other way if they fund anti-LGBTQ campaigns, legislators, and activist groups," GLAAD Rapid Response Manager Mary Emily O'Hara told Insider. "Being a corporate ally means speaking up for what's right and helping fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination all year long. It's not just throwing a rainbow on some packaging one month out of the year."

O'Hara and other advocates say that it's unfair for Arkansas legislators to prevent trans children, a vulnerable group, from being able to receive the healthcare they need.

"State laws that unfairly and unnecessarily target transgender youth are unconscionable and, frankly, disturbing," they said. "Trans youth are already vulnerable to higher levels of bullying and harassment, and the last thing elected officials should be doing is singling them out and making it even harder to fit in at school or access life-saving healthcare."

"The danger is real, and the harm is very personal," said Heng-Lehtinen of the National Center for Trans Equality. "Children deserve to be loved and supported by their families and their communities. These attacks are putting young people in jeopardy, and it's critical that schools, businesses and individuals stand up against them."

Azmi Haroun and Erin Snodgrass contributed reporting.

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