Twitter gets its hands dirty
Two years after closing its PAC, the company has quietly begun giving away money again — starting with the Republican Attorneys General Association
This article was written by Judd Legum, Casey Newton, and Tesnim Zekeria. It is being published in collaboration with Popular Information.
On June 17, Twitter donated $25,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), an organization that is soliciting funds to "combat the Democrats' pro-abortion agenda and stand tall for life." Twitter's donation comes as RAGA is deploying its resources to elect attorneys general that will enforce abortion bans in states where reproductive rights remain unsettled, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and Florida.
Twitter making a significant donation to any political committee in 2022 is unusual. Twitter shut down its PAC in 2020 and has subsequently avoided making any political donations. Now the company is supporting a group that is seeking to revoke reproductive rights nationally, even as Twitter has quietly adopted a policy to help employees to access abortion care.
In Michigan, RAGA is supporting Republican Attorney General nominee Matthew DePerno. Michigan's incumbent attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, has refused to enforce a law that makes it a felony to perform all abortions, except to save the life of the mother. But DePerno has pledged to enforce the ban if elected.
There is also a statute banning abortion in Wisconsin, enacted in 1849, that has been unenforceable since Roe. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) has said he will "not investigate or prosecute anyone for having an abortion" based on the archaic state law. RAGA, however, has already reserved $682,250 in TV ad time for spots opposing Kaul. The three Republicans seeking to replace Kaul have all pledged to enforce the abortion ban if elected. (Wisconsin's primary is next Tuesday.)
In response to a request for comment, a Twitter spokesperson sought to downplay the significance of its support for RAGA, describing the donation as dues that it pays to the organization every year. But after being informed that there is no prior record of Twitter donating to RAGA, the spokesperson acknowledged this is the company’s first donation to the group.
Twitter also says that it donated to the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), although there is no record of such a contribution in public filings. Twitter says that it made a $25,000 donation to DAGA in late July. The latest IRS filings for DAGA and RAGA cover donations received prior to June 30.
Twitter did not offer an explanation for why it decided to start donating to either group. But Twitter's donations follow aggressive actions against the company by Republican Attorneys General.
On June 6, 2022, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) announced an "investigation against Twitter for potentially deceiving Texas customers [and] Texas businesses." Paxton issued a civil investigative demand (CID) "to investigate whether Twitter’s reporting on real versus fake users is 'false, misleading, or deceptive' under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act." The CID requires Twitter to "turn over documents related to how it calculates and manages its user data and how these numbers relate to Twitter’s advertising businesses." Paxton's investigation mirrors the complaints of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is attempting to use issues about bots on Twitter as a pretext for reneging on his agreement to purchase the company.
Last year, Paxton launched a separate investigation into Twitter and other tech companies for "removing and blocking President Donald Trump from online media platforms" following the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. In March 2022, two other RAGA members, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a lawsuit against Biden and other federal officials for allegedly colluding with Twitter and other tech companies "to censor and suppress free speech, including truthful information, related to COVID-19, election integrity, and other topics."
Florida and Texas have also passed laws that prohibit Twitter and other social media companies from "from banning or removing users’ posts based on political viewpoints." The laws, which were billed as a way to combat Twitter's "liberal bias," are currently held up in litigation. But if the laws were to go into effect, they would be enforced by Paxton and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R).
So it is in Twitter's interest to ingratiate itself with Republican attorneys general who are targeting the company by donating to RAGA. But doing so seems likely to draw the ire of the company’s left-leaning workforce, which largely does not share the views of the RAGA candidates — particularly when it comes to abortion rights, which Republican attorneys general are seeking to undermine across the country.
Twitter’s surprise donation is the latest reversal in its on-again, off-again relationship with political activism — and reflects the same tensions that company executives acknowledged from the start. Should you give money to candidates you deeply disagree with on almost everything for a chance they’ll break your way on issues of importance to the company? And what will your workers say if you do?
A #PAC is born
When Twitter closed its political action committee in October 2020, a spokesman for the company said the move was "in line with our belief that political influence should be earned, not bought."
Twitter did not always see it that way, though. The company created its PAC in 2013 in hopes it could influence public policy related to the internet and free expression.
“It is our hope that having a PAC will increase Twitter’s effectiveness in shaping federal policy by allowing us to support candidates who share our policy positions in Washington,” Alexander Macgillivray, then-general counsel, wrote to the company in an email obtained by Popular Information and Platformer. “With our core values in mind, we expect to continue to play an active role in speaking up on issues related to internet freedom, government access to user data, patent reform and freedom of expression.”
At the same time, Macgillivray noted the risks that come with making donations to political candidates whose views on other issues do not align with most employees. “We are wary of some of the missteps of other companies in terms of funding candidates that are counter to their core employee values and have chosen a broad board to approve any support we choose to give,” he wrote.
#PAC, as the company’s committee was called, gave modestly in its seven years of existence: less than $30,000, split mostly evenly between Democrats and Republicans, in the 2016 and 2018 election cycles. During that same period, its lobbying expenditures grew from almost nothing to $1.7 million last year, according to public records.
But the company’s conflicts with lawmakers continued to grow nonetheless. In 2018, then-CEO Jack Dorsey appeared before Congress to answer Republican allegations of political bias in its content moderation decisions.
The following year, in the run-up to the US presidential election, the company decided to wind #PAC down. “The nature of political advocacy in Washington is shifting, and we believe that continuing a traditional PAC is inconsistent with our company values,” Carlos Monje Jr., then-director of policy and philanthropy, wrote in another email to staff.
Monje wrote that Twitter had also chosen not to sponsor either the Republican or Democratic party conventions in 2020. It split the PAC’s remaining $117,000 between NALEO, which works to increase voter registration among Latinos, and an organization that works to increase racial equity in sports.
Twitter's abortion travel policy
Twitter was not among the companies that publicly announced a policy to pay travel expenses for employee abortions. A Twitter spokesperson, however, told Popular Information and Platformer that such a policy was put in place in July.
According to the spokesperson, Twitter believes that "all Tweeps, regardless of medical conditions or geographic location, should have equitable access to care." Twitter will cover travel costs of up to $5,000 for employees and their dependents if abortion services are not available within 100 miles of where they live.
Two Twitter employees we spoke with said news that Twitter had quietly donated to RAGA would likely be received poorly by employees, who broadly support abortion care.
The donation to RAGA comes at a time when the company is working to reduce expenses, as it attempts to compel Elon Musk to complete his acquisition of the company. In recent months, Twitter instituted a hiring freeze and announced it would begin closing some of its international offices.
After this story was published, Twitter sent the following statement:
We’re committed to working with policymakers and civil society – from across the political spectrum – to ensure we are able to serve the public conversation. This year, for the first time, we joined and paid membership dues to both the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) and the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) – simultaneously. Prior to this year, we were not members of either organization. To be clear, our membership dues for both organizations are not and will not be distributed to political candidates.
Twitter does not have a political action committee, and we don’t make political campaign donations.
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