Many of us are looking for ways to extend our activism into our purchasing power. These days, there are many apps and websites that can help us navigate those choices.
Lately, I've seen a few mentions of Goods Unite Us - an app that claims to help us support campaign finance reform. “We run political background checks on brands and companies, so you don’t have to” is how they describe their service. Sounds good so far, but I have some questions. Like, is it really as comprehensive as a background check? Is it reliable? Where do they get their data? And what about factors other than campaign contributions? Since I’m always looking for ways to walk the walk, especially when it comes to money and Socially Responsible Investing, I decided to check it out.
When it comes down to it, Goods is an app that scores brands and companies by their political contributions. Their rating scale runs from -100 to 100, with 100 being “best.” It favors companies that make little to no contributions to the two major parties, or who give to progressive candidates and PACs. They also favor contributions to Democrats over Republicans, so if you are a Republican, this app probably isn’t for you…or at least would require additional due diligence. (They are rolling out a way to shop “Dem-free”, so Republicans stay tuned.)
I dove right in and looked-up my arch nemesis, Comcast. Feeling smugly certain their score would be -100, I was stunned to see that it’s a 30. A 30!? The company that actively advocated for the undoing of Net Neutrality? The company that threatened to sue Philadelphia over pay-equity legislation? The company that is so superior, their employees get right-of-way crossing the street?! (Can you tell I have feelings about them?)
I couldn’t find more details on the Goods website, so I turned to Open Secrets. It seems that Comcast’s score comes from the fact that, in the 2015–2016 election cycle, they donated more heavily to Democrats than Republicans. However, close to $7 million of that can be tied to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, Comcast’s hometown. If you take that spending out, their top donations went to Republicans, and for the 2017–2018 cycle so far, their contributions also lean Republican.
So how partisan is this scoring process? And what about all that other stuff? I don't want to support a company with crappy business practices just because they donate to Democrats. I decided to compare Comcast to two more companies — AT&T (another telecom company like Comcast) and CVS, a company favored by socially responsible investors.
AT&T first: they get a score of -74. It wasn’t level of donation that led to that score — their 2016 cycle donations totaled $11,691,030 compared to Comcast’s $12,811,300. That should lead to a better score than Comcast. However, just like Comcast supported the Democratic Convention, AT&T heavily supported the 2016 Republican Convention. Once you move past that, AT&T has a surprising donation history. In the 2016 cycle, they also donated $1.5 million to the Democratic Convention and more to Bernie Sanders than Comcast did. So far in the 2018 cycle, they’ve donated to both Republican and Democratic committees, a well as Doug Jones, Beto O’Rourke, and Claire McCaskill. Their number one donation so far this cycle is to One Vote at a Time, a “ group of a female filmmakers who create campaign ads for progressive candidates without the means to make their own.” That doesn’t sound like a -74 to me. How big a role does partisan contributions play in this process? Isn’t helping progressive candidates supposed to help your score?
Next I looked at CVS to see how responsible business practice influences the score. Turns out, not at all.
After the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (aka, the biggest political catastrophe in recent history next to the election of Donald Trump), CVS was one of the few companies to use their tax break as the bill supposedly intended. Rather than give their executives raises through chunks of cash or stock buy backs (which increase the value of outstanding shares, most of which are owned by those executives…ka-ching), CVS decided to give their employees raises and invest in new product lines for their customers. They also highlight healthy snacks over junk food, participate in a safe drug disposal program, and stopped selling tobacco products in 2015.
So how did Goods Unite Us score CVS?
-41, seemingly because their 2016 cycle political contributions leaned Republican 51% to 49%, even though they only contributed a total of $860,428 in donations. That’s about 1/16th of Comcast’s contribution level for the same cycle. That tells me that the Goods Unite Us scoring system puts more emphasis on the party a company gives to than the amount they give. I don’t see how this helps us advocate for an end to campaign finance.
One can (and they do) make the argument that Democrats are more likely to pass campaign finance reform than Republicans, which would explain the partisan scoring. And to be fair, Goods states (way down on the “About Us” page) that they do not factor things like sustainability -they are pure campaign finance. But I only learned all that after I started using the app, and probably wouldn’t have made it that far if I hadn’t been so surprised by the Comcast, AT&T, and CVS scores. But it seems like this partisan tilt has taken on more importance than the actual amount donated, and that seems to be the opposite of what Goods is trying to accomplish.
So what’s the take away?
Basically, if your single issue is campaign finance, then this could be your thing, but you definitely need to do more research. This is NOT an app that will do a full “background check.” If you are looking for a one-stop-shop to tell you which companies espouse people- and planet-friendly policies, this won’t do it. But, then again, should it?
Just as we need to flex our critical thinking muscles when it comes to information, policy, news, and candidates, we also need to dig deeper and ask additional questions about the companies we do business with. One app is a good start, but it’s nowhere near where our work should end.
Are you an introvert? Do you find yourself to be passionate about social and political issues but
have a hard time getting involved because of this? Do you feel like extroverts are valued more
in these situations?
Introverts bring SO much to the table. They are involved in a lot of the behind the scenes work
that helps campaigns run. They take the time to think about problems and solutions, and steps
should be taken to value them in every campaign. Here are a few ways introverts can get
Lastly, if you are an introvert and you still want to talk to people but perhaps not complete strangers, talk to your friends and family about social/political issues and voting! Hold them accountable :)
1 - Pennsylvania Together is looking for a graphic designer to help with our communications. Email us for more details - firstname.lastname@example.org
2 - Pennsylvania Together is recruiting a data management volunteer to support our Grassroots Canvass program. Email us for more details - email@example.com
3 - Postcard instructions:
Sign up to write postcards with Turn PA Blue: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/volunteer-to-write-postcards-to-help-turn-pa-blue?clear_id=true&source=email-turn-pa-blue-newsletter-this-weeks-updates-82
4 - Sign up to text Pennsylvania state and Congressional candidates with Red2Blue:
5 - See for example: http://www.patogether.org/they-work-for-you.html
We'd like to introduce you to a new resources for the resistance. MoCTrack is your one-stop spot for catching up on all things Casey and Toomey. Thanks to our friends at Lower Bucks Indivisible for pulling this together!
Check out this week's MoCTrack to get a sense of what inside.
It was a busy week - be sure to keep up with what your legislators are doing in your name. Read MoCTrack!
PS. Like what you see and want to create a similar document for your Congressperson? Drop us a line to learn how!
by Bennett Aikin
On Tuesday, March 27, the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee will hold a public hearing on redistricting, which will feature discussion on four separate bills currently being considered.
Each bill has a similar goal of making the redistricting process for Pennsylvania’s legislative districts and/or its U.S. Congressional districts less biased and more transparent. Each bill also addresses the problem of unfair districts by using some form of a commission structure to make redistricting decisions.
Prime sponsor Boscola.
The most well-known of the bill proposals, S.B. 22 is the redistricting solution being championed by anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA and modeled after the system put in place in California in 2010. It removes redistricting authority from the hands of legislators entirely in favor of a citizens commission.
The bill would create an 11 member citizens commission tasked with redistricting Pennsylvania’s legislative districts and its U.S. Congressional districts. The commission would be comprised of four registered Democrats, four registered Republicans, and three members who are either independent or registered with a third party. Applicants who meet minimum qualification standards would be chosen at random to sit on the commission during the redistricting period following each national census.
All commission discussions would be held in public and the commission’s plan for redistricting would be subject to public hearings across the state before being adopted. All official actions of the commission would require seven votes, including at least one vote from each block of members (Democrat, Republican, and other). The final redistricting plan would have the force of law without intervention of the General Assembly. If the commission would fail to reach consensus on a plan, the Supreme Court would have authority to appoint an expert to create the redistricting plan.
Prime sponsor Leach.
This bill would reform the current system for state legislative reapportionment and expand its authority to also include redistricting of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Congressional districts. Under this bill, elected state politicians would continue to have direct authority over redistricting.
Under this bill, the redistricting commission would include the majority and minority leaders and whips of the state House and Senate, plus a Chairperson appointed by the Supreme Court, for a total of nine commissioners.
A redistricting plan would require approval of seven members and then would require approval from both houses of the General Assembly. If the commission is unable to create a plan that is approved by the General Assembly, the Supreme Court would have authority to choose one of the commissions plans or appoint a redistricting expert to create a new plan.
Prime sponsor Blake.
This bill falls somewhere in the middle of S.B. 22 and S.B. 243 in terms of creating more independence over the redistricting process. Rather than participating on the commission directly, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate would each appoint two members to the commission who must not be elected officials nor staff people to an elected official.
Prime sponsor Costa.
This bill is unique among the proposals in that it only addresses redistricting of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Congressional districts. It doesn’t address Pennsylvania legislative reapportionment at all, leaving in place the existing commission for that task.
Similar to S.B. 22, the new redistricting commission would be comprised of randomly chosen qualified citizens.
For a table summarizing the above bills, see the document below.