Microsoft “playing dumb” on anti-abortion donations, activists say
Microsoft isn’t the only company that seems to contradict its own politics by promising to cover abortion travel costs for employees, while at the same time donating to political action committees that funded the very same governors and attorneys general who fought to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, Microsoft is one of the biggest donors that helped install so many anti-abortion officials over time. The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) told Bloomberg that since 2010, Microsoft has donated $3 million to Republican groups doggedly working to end abortion in America.
Microsoft might be donating to these groups for any number of reasons, but a UK activist shareholder group called Tulipshare says the company should change its political giving policy to resist political contradictions and increase transparency. To put pressure on Microsoft, Tulipshare partnered with CPA. Together, they propose that Microsoft release an annual report that would publicly connect the dots between the money Microsoft donates, the elected officials those donations support, and the specific causes that those elected officials support. Such a report could end any company claims about incidental anti-abortion donations.
According to Jenna Armitage, Tulipshare’s chief marketing officer, the activist group’s strategy is to “engage with Microsoft’s investor relations department” to request the annual report. That report would ideally “mandate that the company require political action committees it funds to say which candidates and causes they support.” If Microsoft rejects the proposal, Tulipshare’s next step would be to prompt investors to “introduce a shareholder motion.”
“We’re asking Microsoft to demand more transparency from the political groups they donate to so that no one can play dumb about what that money is funding,” Armitage tells Ars. “In this scenario,” Republican groups “would have to report their spending to Microsoft, and Microsoft would have to report that spending to its shareholders.”
If Tulipshare actually succeeds with its proposal, for the first time, Microsoft would be required to take a long hard look in full public view at where its political giving goes and how that aligns with the organization’s stated politics. Tulipshare’s goal is to push Microsoft to stop all anti-abortion donations and lobbying efforts, holding the company accountable to the core values seemingly reflected by concerns over Microsoft employees maintaining safe access to reproductive health care.
Armitage says it’s wrong to mislead employees about the full scope of a company’s politics. “You see a lot of companies hopping on this woke marketing opportunity to speak out against something, whether it be to attract more recruits, to just kind of insert themselves into the media, when actually their political activities say otherwise,” Armitage said.
It will be up to Microsoft leadership to decide if such a report would benefit the company’s reputation in this moment. But OpenSecrets suggests it’s clear that Microsoft’s donations support anti-abortion causes, because groups receiving donations make clear how the money will be used. One of the groups that received Microsoft donations, the Republican Attorneys General Association, immediately emailed supporters on June 24 to ask for donations after Roe v. Wade was overturned, promising that “every donation will help Republican Attorneys General combat the Democrats’ pro-abortion agenda and stand tall for life.”
A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment to both Bloomberg and Ars.
Microsoft historically donates to both Democrats and Republicans through its corporate PACs, and OpenSecrets notes that out of all 15 companies, Microsoft was the only company showing “a trend of contributing more to Democratic groups over time.” This could suggest the company is working to be more cognizant of how political giving contradicts its politics not just on abortion, but also on other Democratic issues that Microsoft supports, like climate change or LGBTQ+ protections.
Funding abortion travel doesn’t solve everything
For vulnerable populations living in states restricting access to abortion, a company funding their travel to a different state to procure health care services provides some comfort but not total peace of mind.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, even more anti-abortion legislation has been introduced to stop people from traveling to other states. Last month, the US House of Representatives passed the Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, a bill that would prevent states from interfering with out-of-state travel for abortion. The Washington Post reported that bill is likely to fail, probably destined to meet the same fate in the Senate as the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Because there is an entire multibillion dollar industry focused on collecting location data on as many people as possible connected to the Internet, privacy experts are particularly concerned about companies sharing data with law enforcement seeking, for example, to prosecute out-of-state abortion providers who agree to see residents who travel for services. Without protections for abortion rights, out-of-state travel is expected to become riskier for everybody involved, and so far, well-funded Republicans are voting against every protection Democrats introduce.
Battle lines are being drawn between states restricting or protecting abortion access, and clashes have already begun. Perhaps the most widely publicized example is a shocking story of a Republican attorney general who already launched an investigation into an out-of-state abortion. Indiana AG Todd Rokita started gathering evidence last month against an Indiana doctor who reportedly failed to report that she performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio for the procedure. The New York Times reported that nationwide, the rift between states wanting to prosecute or protect abortion providers is expanding.
Within this legal landscape, companies like Microsoft will have to decide how much they value employee access to reproductive health care.
Reputational risks could threaten company growth, and Tulipshare’s proposed annual report from Microsoft would be one way for the company to manage reputation risks. Bruce Freed, CPA president, told Bloomberg that “companies need to know where their money is ending up, what it enables, and what it associates them with. This is an essential element of risk management today.”
“We’d hope that Microsoft takes our request seriously and would love to come to a resolution with them,” Armitage says.