Two recent reports by the Proteus Fund and Greenpeace show that organizations associated with law enforcement—mostly police unions—are the main drivers of the unprecedented number of new anti-protest bills introduced in state legislatures in 2021.
When Connor Gibson undertook research for the Proteus Fund to see which corporations were sponsoring the plethora of anti-protest bills popping up in state legislatures in 2021, he was in for a surprise—for the most part, corporations weren’t—at least not directly. With the exception of bills claiming to protect “critical infrastructure” such as utilities and energy production and transmission facilities like power plants, pipelines, and refineries, the corporations showed little interest. Not so for police unions. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the bills and provided law enforcement lobbyist and witnesses to advocate for passage of the bills.
“It is the only trend I could find,” said Gibson, cautioning that police influence varied significantly from bill to bill and state to state.
Over 80 anti-protest bills have been introduced in 34 states. In 19 of those states, former law enforcement officers who became legislators sponsored anti-protest bills. In Arizona alone, four co-sponsors of the anti-protest bill have law enforcement ties.
According to public records, law enforcement groups donated $342,602 in the 2019 - 2020 election cycle to support anti-protest legislation in 2021. Most were police unions. For instance, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association donated $39,300 while the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York donated $38,350. They were the top two anti-protest donors.
Law enforcement officers or police unions publicly expressed support for at least one of the then-pending anti-protest bills in 13 states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
The Greenpeace report noted a connection between anti-protest and voter suppression bills. Forty-four state legislators who sponsored at least one anti-protest bill also sponsored at least one voter suppression bill. One thing the two types of bills have in common is that both have a greater impact on communities of color.
“It is only through protest and the vote that Black and Latino working-class people have made any advances toward equality in this society,” said Devin Branch, the Texas Organizing Project Harris County political organizer. “It is hypocritical for politicians and corporations like AT&T to say that they stand for equality and social justice while undermining the only peaceable means we have to achieve it.”
AT&T was among the top ten corporate contributors to legislative sponsors of both voter suppression bills and anti-protest bills. Others in the top ten include Comcast, Altria Group—the parent company of Philip Morris, Reynolds American Inc., and United Health Group.
“It was eye-opening to me as a consumer of AT&T,” said Greenpeace Democracy Campaign Director Folabi Olagbaju. “There is a clear connection between voter suppression and anti-protest bills.”
So, while corporations like AT&T may not directly lobby in favor of anti-protest bills, they clearly support legislators who will vote in favor of them.
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