Chevron gave over five times more funding to politicians with F grades from the NAACP in the six months after their public claim of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and communities of color. It adds to the oil major’s pattern of propping up systemic racism while trying to come across as a social justice champion and greenwash its image.
It began in 1976. America was emerging from the civil rights movement fight against racist Jim Crow policies of segregation and discrimination. Alabama Governor George C. Wallace – a staunch segregationist who Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to as “the most dangerous racist in America” – was running a bid for president.
Enter, Chevron. The California-based oil company made its first-ever campaign contribution as documented by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to Wallace’s presidential campaign, giving $24 to the campaign, or the equivalent of approximately $115 in today’s dollars.
This was the start of millions of dollars that Chevron has since donated to political campaigns over the decades. It also kicked off a pattern of funding politicians with abysmal records on racial justice.
Global Witness’ new analysis of Chevron’s political spending reveals that in the six months after the company’s public claim of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Chevron’s political action committee (PAC) gave over five times more funding to politicians with failing civil rights voting records, adding to the company’s pattern of propping up systemic racism despite trying to position itself as a social justice champion.
A pattern of funding politicians who prop up systemic racism
In June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by police and the wave of protests for racial justice that followed, Chevron came out with a statement positioning itself as an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and condemning systemic racism. As we revealed shortly thereafter, the oil major had given over four times more campaign funding during the 2019-2020 election cycle to US politicians who failed to uphold civil rights legislation, as scored by the NAACP’s Legislative Civil Rights Report Card for the 116th Congress[i]. As one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, the NAACP scores lawmakers on how their records align with the organization’s legislative agenda in areas of voting rights, criminal justice, climate justice and more.
new research shows that this continued – and worsened – after Chevron’s public statements.
Over the past year, unrest and inequality in the US has continued to mount, escalating with a violent insurrection attempt at the hands of white supremacists propped up by Republican officials who pushed to overturn the 2020 Presidential election results.
Yet in the six months after Chevron’s statement of solidarity, the company’s political spending continued to prop up the very forces they had claimed to denounce: Chevron’s PAC gave over five times more money to Congressmembers with failing civil rights voting records.[ii] Many of these same Congressmembers were also involved in the attempt to overturn the 2020 US Presidential election result and disenfranchise voters of color in the process. In total, Chevron funneled $232,000 in the second half of 2020 through its PAC to politicians with failing marks on their civil rights voting records.
For instance, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has made a slew of policy proposals and comments that uphold systemic racism – most recently attacking the use of ‘critical race theory,’ a long-established framework analyzing how systemic racism is ingrained in American society. Sen. Cotton has also introduced a Senate bill to suppress protest against injustice, cited slavery as a “necessary evil” in the views of the Founding Fathers, and tried to ban an educational project centering the role of slavery in US history. Yet in the six-month period of our analysis, Chevron gave $5,000 to Sen. Cotton.
The pattern continues when examining the For the People Act, a comprehensive voting rights bill meant to help address the longstanding disenfranchisement of voters of color. Earlier this year, the bill passed in the House of Representatives. Chevron had given nearly 7 times more funding to lawmakers who voted against it than to those who supported it.
A similar picture appears at the state level: A Greenpeace report published this month shows Chevron listed in the top 100 corporate contributors to state lawmakers sponsoring anti-protest bills, which disproportionately target activists of color and frontline communities resisting fossil fuel projects.
Previously in response to allegations of funding racism via political spending, Chevron described supporting candidates based on a variety of factors: “We engage with and support many elected officials who take positions on a wide range of issues. We are not always aligned with all of their views but it is important for us to be part of the dialogue and share our perspectives, including those on diversity and inclusion, with candidates.”
In the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection attempt, a spotlight emerged on corporate donations to members of Congress who were complicit, and pressure mounted for companies to rethink their political spending. Earther revealed that Chevron’s corporate PAC had donated $745,000 to House members and more than $127,000 to senators of the “insurrection caucus”. Our analysis shows that the company funded one out of every four members of Congress who went on to overturn the election just hours after white supremacists stormed Capitol chambers. Amid the pressure, Chevron finally announced a “review” of its political spending alongside scores of other major corporations, and it did not log any political contributions with the FEC in the first quarter of 2021.
Chevron has yet to commit to a timeframe for their review, and across industries corporate PACs are already thinking about how they can “move beyond” the insurrection and its fallout. But the oil major hasn’t just funneled big money to politicians with failing records on civil rights; Chevron also spends millions of dollars on advertising and marketing appearing to position itself as a social justice champion, despite its harmful track record.
Chevron spends big to spin the image of a “human energy company”
Chevron is the world's second largest polluting company, and its activities have been shown time and again to disproportionately harm Black and Indigenous people of color. Yet the company spends millions to come across as a social justice champion, or as it calls itself, a “human energy company.”
In 2019, it renewed a $60 million contract with advertising agency Wavemaker seemingly to craft its image as a climate-friendly and socially-aware company, as spotlighted by Clean Creatives. Chevron has gone on to produce TV spots such as one titled “portraits,” which describes how the company is “working together with women and minority-owned businesses because valuable ideas only come when you value everyone.” Its social media feeds promote similar themes, including a video featuring an HR advisor who “knows the power of bringing together diverse voices and ideas.”
But Chevron’s actions show otherwise. The company has an atrocious track record of imperiling the climate, human rights and racial justice through its operations. That includes alleged violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights in Ecuador to the harm its polluting projects have posed to communities of color residing near its facilities.
The public is increasingly waking up to this form of greenwashing and co-opting of social movements by climate polluters, yet accountability so far has been minimal. Earlier this year, Global Witness, Earthworks and Greenpeace USA filed a novel legal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that Chevron not engage in “greenwashing” its ads by misleading consumers to appear climate-friendly and racial justice-oriented.
Shareholders, too, seem to have a major interest in Chevron's actions on racial justice, with a group of activist investors attempting to file a resolution on the issue ahead of the May 2021 annual shareholder meeting. The company was able to exclude the resolution, however, due to ongoing litigation related to this issue.
Chevron’s spending reveals a pattern of enabling people, policies, and practices that harm communities of color while attempting to paint itself as a social justice champion. Efforts to muddy the waters of its culpability in both climate chaos and systemic racism are, in effect, another tool of the fossil fuel industry’s longstanding tradition of peddling disinformation to keep the profits rolling in. Climate justice IS racial justice; it is simply not compatible with the pollution of our political processes, our communities, or our planet.
[i] As one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, the NAACP produces an annual Civil Rights Legislative Report Card, debuted in 1914, to demonstrate how every Member of Congress votes on bread and butter civil rights issues.
[ii] Data sourced from the FEC includes PAC contributions spanning 1 June 2020 through 31 March 2021. Ten candidates who received donations in this period did not have recorded grades from the NAACP and were excluded from the analysis.