Some of the most revered brands in Georgia – including corporations, law firms, a pro sports team and a brewery – donated cash to four high-profile and outspoken anti-transgender lawmakers in the state legislature in recent years.
A Project Q Atlanta review of donations made since 2018 to Reps. Ginny Ehrhart, Rick Jasperse and Philip Singleton, along with Sen. Marty Harbin, showed that the lawmakers received donations from the Atlanta Braves, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Gas South, Georgia Power, Scofflaw Brewing, Troutman Pepper (formerly Troutman Sanders) and UPS.
Harbin, Jasperse and Singleton introduced legislation banning trans athletes from participating in sports, while Ehrhart sponsored a bill to imprison doctors who provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. All four lawmakers are Republicans.
The donations are “troubling,” according to Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham.
“Will they be joining the corporate movement to review political donations going forward and institute prohibitions on donations to individuals who promote the bias against and lies about transgender individuals, families and communities that these lawmakers champion and promote?” he asked.
Graham also questioned what the businesses are doing to protect trans people across the state.
“Did they use their influence with these lawmakers to express their opposition to the anti-trans legislation these lawmakers championed?” he said. “Have they signed the Georgia Prospers or Georgia Unites Against Discrimination business pledge? Do they have policies that treat their transgender employees and customers equitably?”
The donations belie the high scores some of the businesses received on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. The annual ranking rates companies on their nondiscrimination policies, equitable benefits for LGBTQ employees and their families, support for an inclusive culture, and corporate responsibility. Coca-Cola and Troutman Pepper notched perfect scores on the index for the past five years. UPS scored a 100 on the index for the past four years. Delta scored an 85 on the index for the past three years after notching a perfect score in 2018.
For this story, Project Q reviewed donations made to lawmakers since 2018. The Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission makes such information publicly available.
Ehrhart rakes in Georgia’s corporate dollars
Ehrhart, a Republican from Marietta, developed a lengthy anti-LGBTQ track record since taking office in 2019. She compared transgender people to moose during her 2018 campaign, vowed to revive a push for anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation in the 2019 session, spoke out against a bill that would ban conversion therapy for minors during a hearing in 2019 and targeted doctors with a “trans panic” bill in 2020.
Ehrhart went after doctors and trans youth again this year with House Bill 401, which would prohibit medical professionals from giving hormone treatments to (or performing gender affirmation surgery on) trans people under 18. The professionals who violate this law would be charged with a felony and face 10 years in prison.
Since 2018, the Georgia-based corporations and law firms donating to Ehrhart include Delta ($300 in 2018), UPS ($500 in 2018), Troutman Pepper ($250 in 2018, $250 in 2020), the Aaron’s Company ($500 in 2018) and Gas South ($500 in 2018, $500 in January).
Ehrhart also received $4,400 from the Georgia Association of Realtors since 2018, $1,250 from the AT&T Georgia Political Action Committee in 2018 and $500 from the Atlanta Braves in 2018.
The Braves, though not included in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, host a popular Pride Night every year.
Delta and UPS did not respond to Project Q’s questions about the donations.
Coke, Delta, UPS steer cash toward Jasperse
Jasperse, a Republican from Jasper, pushed back on adding LGBTQ protections to a student scholarship bill in 2017 and voted against a historic LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill in 2020. He introduced House Bill 372 this year, which would ban trans athletes in schools from competing in the sport that matches their gender.
Since 2018, the Georgia-based corporations and law firms donating to Ehrhart include Coca-Cola ($750 in 2018, $500 in 2020), Delta ($500 in 2018), UPS ($250 in 2018, $250 in 2019), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia ($1,000 in 2018), Troutman Pepper ($500 in 2018, $2,000 in 2020) and Georgia Power ($250 in 2018, $300 in 2020).
Jasperse also received $1,000 from the AT&T Georgia Political Action Committee in 2019 and another $750 in 2020. In 2018, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce donated $500 and another $250 in 2020. The chamber has repeatedly opposed anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation.
Coca-Cola donated $250 to state Sen. Marty Harbin in 2018. Harbin, a Republican from Tyrone, is a longtime supporter of anti-LGBTQ legislation. He introduced Senate Bill 266 this year, which bans trans girls from women’s sports teams and defines gender as a person’s biological sex at birth.
Coca-Cola also donated $3,500 to the sponsors of an anti-trans bill in North Carolina, according to Popular Information.
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola did not address Project Q’s questions about its donations to Harbin and Jasperse.
“We suspended all political contributions in January, and that pause continues,” communications director Ann Moore said.
‘We do beer, not politics’
It didn’t take long for Scofflaw Brewing Company to gain acclaim after opening an 18,000 square-foot facility on Bolton Road in Northwest Atlanta in 2016. It soon landed on “Best New Craft Breweries in America” lists in Beer Advocate, Craft Beer & Brewing and USA Today.
But controversy came in 2018 when Scofflaw’s public relations firm sent out a press release touting the brewery’s partnership with U.K.-based BrewDog. Scofflaw promised to get the U.K. “beered-up redneck style” free of charge, but only for supporters of now-former President Donald Trump.
The backlash was fierce, as documented by Eater Atlanta in a series of stories. BrewDog canceled the partnership and several U.S. retailers stopped selling Scofflaw beer. The brewery’s founder and CEO Matthew Shirah claimed the release was sent without his approval.
“We do beer, not politics,” he said according to an October 2018 press release in the wake of the controversy.
But Scofflaw and Shirah were in the midst of a spending spree supporting anti-LGBTQ Georgia lawmakers at the time.
The brewery donated $2,500 to former state Sen. Hunter Hill in 2017 in his run for governor, and Shirah donated $6,600 to Hill the following year, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Hill tanked his own bill protecting state employees from discrimination after a Senate committee added protections for LGBTQ workers to it in 2016. Just two weeks after that, he voted for a sweeping anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill that ignited a national controversy.
Hill also voted in favor of a bill to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people and signed a pledge supporting anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation in 2017.
Hill placed third in the Republican primary in the governor’s race. But Scofflaw and Shirah would soon become the top donors to an anti-LGBTQ lawmaker from Sharpsburg.
Scofflaw and Shirah each gave $2,800 to Singleton in his race for the House District 71 seat in July 2019 — the maximum donation allowed for a primary or general election. Shirah gave another $1,500 to Singleton that September — the maximum donation allowed for a runoff election. Singleton took office the next month, and Scofflaw donated $2,500 more the following year.
With a total of $9,600 total, Scofflaw and Shirah donated twice the amount of Singleton’s next-largest contributor.
The first bill that Singleton introduced after taking office called for banning trans youth from competing in athletic events at public facilities. He voted against an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill that passed with bipartisan support in 2020, and co-sponsored a bill that critics said would lead to discrimination against LGBTQ students that same year.
Singleton introduced House Bill 276 this year, which bans trans women from competing in female sports at public and private schools and colleges.
Scofflaw Brewing Company did not respond to Project Q’s multiple requests for comment about its political donations.
The four anti-trans bills proposed by Ehrhart, Harbin, Jasperse and Singleton did not pass during the 2021 legislative session. The bills will return in 2022.
This story is made possible by Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.