June is the month dedicated to celebrating Pride, with massive parades and other events taking place across the country. Last week Toyota joined other major brands in sponsoring LA Pride, one of the largest events in the nation. Just weeks prior, however, Toyota and several of its franchisees were identified as the largest corporate donor to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians by Data For Progress.
The activist group’s Pride Corporate Accountability Project outlined a list of companies and their contributions to politicians that oppose or have opposed important legislation like the Equality Act, which would prevent discrimination against a person based on gender identity or sexual orientation nationwide. The data gets even more specific, delineating companies that also sponsor Pride events, and of that group, Toyota and its franchisees contributed nearly twice as much as any other with $601,500 in donations from 2019 to March of 2022.
While the automaker’s participation in Pride events is a step worth applauding, the simultaneous donations (even at the franchise level) to those in power impeding human rights progress is a baffling juxtaposition.
The bulk of the money comes from Toyota Gulf States Inc., an independent distributor of Toyota vehicles, that gave $580,000 to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The governor opposes the Equality Act and has taken extensive action against LGBTQ+ Texans during his time in office. Most recently, the governor officially directed state officials to investigate gender-affirming surgeries for trans youth as “child abuse.”
The same Toyota franchisee group also gave $15,000 to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who came under criticism this year for equating Austin Pride to “human sexuality instruction” and alleging that the event violates Texas law.
A Toyota Motor North America spokesperson provided the following statement when asked for comment.
“Please be informed that the overwhelming vast majority of the political giving attributed to ‘Toyota’ is not related to our company (Toyota Motor North American or TMNA). All but $5,000 of the contributions referenced were made by other companies in which TMNA has no financial stake, influence, nor control in how they manage their political donations. We respectfully ask that the company referenced is clarified.”
In response to this, Data For Progress Communications Director McKenzie Wilson stated that “campaign finance researchers typically lump franchises in the same bucket.”
She continued, “Most corporations often use a complex network of state-specific PACs, subsidiaries, franchises, etc. to obfuscate their corporate giving and allow them to contribute more than they otherwise would where there are contribution or spending limits.”
This is not an isolated occurrence within the automotive industry. General Motors – a company that signed the Human Rights Campaign business statement against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation – also donated to politicians that have voted in favor of such measures. Abbott was again the lead recipient in contributions that totaled $48,500 over the last three years.
A GM rep acknowledged that the company signed the HRC statement and that its political contributions go to officials whose ideas most align with its goals, seemingly implying that could also mean someone like Greg Abbott.
“The GM employee-funded PAC supports the election of U.S. federal and state candidates from both sides of the aisle who foster sound business policies, support American workers and understand the importance of a robust domestic auto industry as we pursue an all-electric vehicle future. GM is vocal about our commitment to the LGBTQ community in our company’s policies and we are a signatory of the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Statement Opposing Anti-LQBTQ State Legislation.”
With complex business interests across the country, it’s not surprising that both Toyota and General Motors choose to put their money all over the political spectrum. But as we reflect on social progress made this Pride month, it’s important to consider that sometimes corporate sponsorship and support come at a cost.