Gas and electric utility interests have contributed more than $2.4 million to anti-abortion lawmakers across the U.S. who have passed or updated so-called “trigger laws” in recent years to limit or completely restrict abortion access.
A review of campaign finance filings by the Energy and Policy Institute for the 10 states that passed or amended trigger laws since 2019 shows utilities and their affiliated political action committees (PACs) have supported lawmakers with an anti-abortion agenda, often contradicting their public pledges to support employees’ rights, safety, and access to healthcare. The review examined campaign contributions made over the two calendar years leading up to each law’s passage and the time since then.
Now on the books in 13 states, trigger laws impose steep barriers to abortion – in some cases virtually banning it – after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on June 24. Research shows restrictions on abortion can seriously harm people physically, emotionally, and economically. Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas are set to enact their trigger laws tomorrow, August 25.
Sempra’s Oncor, CenterPoint bankroll architects of extreme Texas law
In Texas, the gap between utilities’ comments about supporting employees and their political operation with regard to abortion is on full display. The state’s trigger law – a near-total ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest – is among the most extreme anti-abortion measures in the nation. Each of the 69 lawmakers who sponsored the bill has received campaign contributions from utilities since January 2019. Along with Gov. Greg Abbott, the state officials have raked in a combined $1.58 million from utilities during that span. More than one-third of that total – $650,674 – has streamed in since Abbott signed the measure into law in June 2021.
The biggest utility donor to anti-abortion lawmakers in Texas was Oncor, the state’s largest transmission and distribution electric utility. Oncor has sent $493,500 to trigger law sponsors and Abbott since January 2019, diverging sharply from its public commitments and those of its parent company, Sempra, to empower girls and women – and even specifically to support reproductive freedom. Sempra’s PAC gave another $4,500 to Texas trigger law authors in that time period.
Oncor’s website includes a list of goals drafted by the United Nations as guideposts for its work, among them to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Sempra notes on its website that it adheres to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a document adopted by the United Nations in 1979 that affirms the right to reproductive choice and calls for women’s ability “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.”
In addition, Sempra notes its “responsibility to protect and respect human rights, while also mitigating and remediating negative impacts to people, whether that is our employees, partners, or members of the communities in which we operate.” Research shows that limiting abortion access substantially increases the risk of death for pregnant people – a trend already on the rise in Texas.
Representatives for Sempra and Oncor did not respond to a request for comment.
Another six-figure supporter of anti-abortion lawmakers in Texas is CenterPoint Energy. The Houston-based gas and electric utility – which says its political efforts “focus on issues that affect the company, its operations, employees and local communities” – has given $166,100 to trigger law proponents in its home state since January 2019. The contributions are at odds with CenterPoint’s public commitment to foster a “diverse, equitable and inclusive environment where we respect, understand and appreciate one another, as well as those we serve” and ensure “an equal opportunity to thrive” regardless of gender.
Roughly two months before Texas’ trigger law passed, CenterPoint tweeted: “This #InternationalWomensDay, we recommit to our employees, our customers and our communities a continued focus on diversity and inclusion across the organization, including supporting the women in our workforce so they have an equal opportunity to thrive.”
Earlier this summer, the utility defended its choice to sponsor the Texas Republicans’ political convention where members adopted an extreme right-wing platform that called for an end to abortion care, along with the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protects voters from racial discrimination plus a raft of anti-LGBTQ+ provisions.
In a statement emailed to the Energy and Policy Institute, CenterPoint defended its financial backing of trigger law proponents:
We believe it is misleading to suggest that we have provided financial support to criminalize abortion or take any position on this issue. Rather, the CenterPoint Energy Political Action Committee (PAC) has made public contributions to support candidates who prioritize energy-related issues that align with the company’s goals, in particular to promote the safety, reliability and resilience of our energy delivery systems for the benefit of our ratepayers. These contributions have been to candidates of both parties, who have taken a variety of positions on a variety of issues that are not relevant to our company’s business priorities.
But CenterPoint has indicated workforce diversity, including gender diversity, is one of those business priorities. The utility added metrics related to diversity, equity and inclusion to its executive compensation calculus last fiscal year. Executives do not receive bonuses for hitting diversity benchmarks, but could see their pay reduced if they miss them. The approach reflects “the Company’s belief that advancement of the Company’s diversity, equity and inclusion objectives is an expectation, not a goal to be rewarded,” CenterPoint said in its 2022 proxy statement.
The Energy and Policy Institute asked whether CenterPoint would provide travel assistance to employees living in states with trigger laws, who may be required to travel to receive abortion care. The company did not respond.
CenterPoint, AEP, Atmos anti-abortion giving spans multiple states
While CenterPoint’s giving was concentrated in its home state, its support for anti-abortion officials stretched beyond Texas. The utility has spent another $14,850 to support trigger law proponents in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma in the two years prior to the passage of legislation in those states and since.
Even more prolific in its reach than CenterPoint is American Electric Power (AEP) – one of the largest electric utilities in the country, with 5.5 million customers in 11 states. AEP contributed $244,850 to anti-abortion lawmakers in a majority of states that have passed trigger laws in recent years: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Like CenterPoint, AEP gave the most to the architects of Texas’ especially extreme anti-abortion law – $152,000 dating back to January 2019. It also gave $27,350 to trigger law proponents in Arkansas, $24,750 in Kentucky, $20,750 in Tennessee, $15,000 in Louisiana, and $5,000 in Oklahoma.
Despite its pattern of support for anti-abortion officials, AEP last month celebrated its place on a Forbes list of “Best Employers for Women.” In a statement, AEP Chairman and CEO Nicholas Akins said the distinction “showcases our dedication to building an inclusive, supportive company culture” and noted the utility “will continue to develop programs to support our female colleagues.” The company has made similar remarks in recent years, promising to support and empower women while simultaneously funding lawmakers pushing anti-abortion laws that research shows will limit women’s job opportunities and push them out of the workforce altogether.
An AEP spokesperson provided a statement to the Energy and Policy Institute that said the utility’s political contributions are “focused on supporting candidates who understand and work toward solutions on energy industry issues that will benefit our customers.”
The statement continues:
AEP is committed to the health and wellbeing of our employees and their families. We have provided comprehensive healthcare benefits for women for many years and remain committed to ensuring our employees and their families have access to the services they need.
But when asked by the Energy and Policy Institute whether AEP provides travel assistance to employees who are unable to access abortion care in their home state, the spokesperson clarified that it does not.
The dissonance between political contributions and public pledges is also evident at Dallas-based Atmos Energy, whose support for anti-abortion officials spans four states while its website claims that “the physical, mental, and financial health of our employees and their families is one of our top priorities.” Atmos has spent $281,500 on the campaigns of abortion foes in recent years, directly supporting the proponents of trigger laws that will harm women in both their personal and professional lives.
Atmos’ giving spans anti-abortion lawmakers in four states including Tennessee ($68,000), Louisiana ($27,250), and Kentucky ($26,750). The lion’s share is focused on its home state of Texas ($159,500), where Atmos joined CenterPoint in sponsoring the Republican Party convention earlier this summer.
An Atmos spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Exelon, now out of Texas, says that it will take a “holistic” view of candidates’ positions moving forward
Chicago-based Exelon gave $126,000 to Texas’ anti-abortion officials in recent years. That sum includes contributions made before and after the trigger law passed despite Exelon’s human rights policy that says the company focuses on supporting and expanding opportunities for women. The policy specifically identifies health and safety for its workers as a “fundamental value” with a pledge to “operate all aspects of business in a manner that protects the safety and health of employees, contractors, customers, and the general public.”
In a statement emailed to the Energy and Policy Institute, an Exelon spokesperson noted that Exelon spun off its Texas business in February and the utility’s PAC no longer makes contributions to candidates for state office. Exelon’s most recent contribution to Texas trigger law proponents was January 24. The statement continued:
As a new company, we believe that Exelon PAC contributions are part of an important dialogue on energy matters at the federal level — climate change, affordability, energy supply, grid security and resiliency, among other issues — undertaken on behalf of our employees and in the best interests of the customers and communities we serve. Exelon PAC takes a holistic view of candidates’ positions on a variety of policies, and also reviews issues related to personal conduct, ethics, and diversity and inclusion before making a determination surrounding contributions. The reviews are conducted by the Exelon PAC Board of Directors – which includes a diverse array of voices from our family of companies – and are informed by the findings of an independent vetting firm across these areas.
Other utility giving
Another Houston-based company, NRG Energy, invested just shy of six figures in its home state’s anti-abortion lawmakers. The $99,500 in total campaign contributions from NRG Energy came both before and after NRG President and CEO Mauricio Gutierrez wrote in the company’s 2021 sustainability report that “it is critical that we continue elevating all voices and providing a place where everyone feels valued and has a path for advancement.” An NRG spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
New Orleans-based Entergy has also boosted anti-abortion lawmakers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas in the lead-up to those states passing trigger laws and since then. Entergy’s $75,974 in combined giving comes despite its human rights statement which it says “is consistent” with United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights. The United Nations document refers explicitly to businesses’ relationships and their responsibilities to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts” and “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.” An Entergy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Electric cooperatives also support anti-abortion lawmakers
Rural electric cooperatives have also supported many state officials who have pushed anti-abortion laws. Rural Friends of Electric Cooperatives, a PAC associated with rural electric cooperatives in Texas, sunk more than $263,000 into anti-abortion officials there. Golden Spread, a Texas electric cooperative, itself dropped another $26,000 on contributions to anti-abortion officials in the state. Because rural cooperatives do not have investors, any political contributions that they make to candidates or to PACs are funded directly by their customers.
Other state-focused PACs tied to electric cooperatives have followed the trend. The Tennessee Action Committee for Rural Electrification spent $170,500 to support the election of that state’s anti-abortion lawmakers. In Arkansas, the Action Committee for Rural Electrification funneled $87,950 to trigger law proponents. The Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives contributed $35,789 to trigger law authors.
Utilities buoy Indiana lawmakers who passed first post-Roe abortion ban
Abortion access remains a hotly contested issue beyond states with pre-existing trigger laws. Other states continue to move toward more draconian restrictions – and utilities continue to support the officials leading the charge.
On August 5, Indiana legislators passed the first abortion ban since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June. Under the law, doctors will lose their licenses for performing abortions in Indiana unless the procedures fit a narrow set of exceptions, for instance if a pregnant person’s life is at risk or in certain cases of rape and incest. Indiana lawmakers who drove the effort have received a combined $180,175 from utility interests since the beginning of 2020.
Investor-owned utilities bankrolling anti-abortion officials in Indiana include AEP, which gave $35,000, and CenterPoint, which gave $8,250. Other utilities boosted totals even more – NiSource gave $40,000, trailed by Duke Energy’s $15,600, AES Energy’s $15,425, and NextEra Energy’s $10,000. Each of those utilities contributed most substantially to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has logged $137,500 in utility contributions in recent years. Holcomb, who signed the ban into law, has publicly championed anti-abortion views for years. While many of these contributions came from utility PACs, some contributions to Holcomb were from the companies themselves – including $10,000 from Duke Energy Indiana LLC in October 2020.
The investor-owned utility PACs are funded by contributions from employees, but reporting has shown that in many companies, management encourages and rewards employees to contribute to PACs, and the money is generally withdrawn directly from employees’ paychecks. High-ranking corporate executives generally make the decisions about how to spend the PAC money.
As in other states, a PAC affiliated with Indiana’s rural electric cooperatives has also offered sizable financial support to anti-abortion legislators. Indiana Friends of Rural Electrification sent $55,900 to Holcomb and other top anti-abortion officials since January 2020.
For this analysis, the Energy and Policy Institute reviewed campaign finance data through state disclosures and databases to identify utility contributions to legislators who sponsored trigger law bills and the governors who signed them into law. EPI included Louisiana SB 342 as part of the analysis, which increased criminal penalties for abortion providers under Louisiana’s existing trigger law. In each state, the review examined campaign contributions made in the two years leading up to the law’s passage and the time since then. Contributions attributed to utilities may have been made using corporate dollars or by utility-affiliated political action committees, which are typically funded by employees and, in many cases, infusions of corporate cash.
States included in the search are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Because quality and accessibility of campaign finance data varies by state, this review represents a conservative estimate of utility giving. Some records were not immediately available.
Photo credit: Paul Woolrich via Flickr