These groups gave $1.2M to senators leading fight against workers' rights

2035
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A bill written by Senate Republicans would make it harder for workers to sue their employers if they contracted the coronavirus on the job.

Business groups pushing to make it harder for employees to sue the companies they work for if they contract the coronavirus on the job have given more than $1.2 million to the two Senate Republicans leading the charge to include a corporate "liability shield" in any new pandemic relief legislation.

And one of those senators is threatening to block any relief legislation until the shield becomes law.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are the co-authors of the so-called Safeguarding America's Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy Act. The act requires workers who contract the coronavirus to show that they did so due to their employer's "reckless disregard" for safety measures.

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The act says that a plaintiff must establish "clear and convincing evidence that the individual or entity was not making reasonable efforts in light of all the circumstances to comply with any of the conflicting applicable government standards and guidance issued by any government to whose jurisdiction the individual or entity is subject."

Cornyn has received more than $430,000 from trade associations' political action committees since 2016. McConnell has received more than $825,000.

Under current law, if a business's customer or employee gets sick, in most states they can sue if they can prove the business was responsible and did not take reasonable precautions. Proving this is already an "uphill battle," employment lawyer Jonathan Segal told USA Today in April.

Corporations are pushing to make that hill even steeper.

Though relatively few cases have been brought by employees so far, businesses have argued that expensive bogus lawsuits could bankrupt them without such a shield.

Workers say such a law would put them at even greater risk than they already are.

"We're getting $12 an hour. We have no sick days," airport security guard Mercedes Taylor told Time magazine last Thursday. "For them to be concerned about the liability of employers and them not being sued versus the employees who have been consistently showing for work and providing a service? I'm very disappointed."

"Black, Latinx, and workers of color will be most directly impacted by the corporate immunity bill," National Employment Law Project staff attorney Hugh Baran told the American Independent Foundation in a recent interview. "Gross negligence is already as a general manner an extremely difficult thing to prove. You virtually have to prove intent — that you wanted your workers to get hurt or sick. This actually raises the bar so high that no worker or consumer will ever be able to" meet its standard.

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 494 other business groups sent Congress what they titled a "Coalition Letter on Coronavirus Liability Protections."

"The undersigned organizations urge you to support the timely, targeted, and temporary liability relief provisions contained in S. 4317, the 'SAFE TO WORK Act,'" the groups wrote:

These crucial protections would safeguard healthcare workers, providers, and facilities, as well as businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions against unfair lawsuits so they can continue to contribute to a safe and effective economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation is critically needed and should be enacted as soon as possible. To that end, we strongly urge you to support the inclusion of these provisions in a Phase IV COVID-19 relief package.

Cornyn wrote last month, "As states gradually reopen their economies, frontline health care workers, small businesses, and schools face a second pandemic of frivolous lawsuits threatening to bankrupt them. This legislation would protect those acting in good faith from being sued into oblivion while ensuring bad actors who willingly put their patients, employees, or customers in danger will still be held accountable."

McConnell said in April that the Republican majority would not let the Senate pass any new virus relief legislation that does not contain the provision. "Let me make it perfectly clear that the Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection," he told Fox News. "So, that's an integral part of our economy getting back to normal. ... What I'm saying is, we have a red line on liability. It won't pass the Senate without it."

Donald Trump has backed the liability shield.

A review of Federal Election Commission data finds that of the 495 trade groups pushing for the shield, at least 72 have sent political action committee contributions to Cornyn, McConnell, or both in the past few years. Their combined donations exceeded $1.2 million.

The contributions were made over the 2016, 2018, and 2020 campaign cycles and included donations to both the senators' campaign committees and their leadership political action committees.

The donors were:

  • AdvaMed - Advanced Medical Technology Association: Gave $1,462.92 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Airlines for America: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group supports "candidates who understand and appreciate the value that U.S. airlines deliver to our nation's economy, jobs and the traveling public" and appreciates "the efforts of the Senate as they work to provide relief for both individuals and businesses that are critical to relaunching the economy as our country continues to combat challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to working with Congress as they address vital economic needs including measures that would ensure liability protections, help businesses retain employees and provide safe workplaces."
  • American Academy of PAs: Gave $1,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Bakers Association: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Bankers Association: Gave $20,000 to Cornyn and $12,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Chemistry Council: Gave $10,000 to Cornyn and $7,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group backs the liability protection: "We believe that companies that are following federal, state and local public health guidelines, and are committed to controlling the spread of this disease, deserve appropriate legal protection to help ensure businesses are not hampered by unnecessary litigation, so that the U.S. economy is well positioned for recovery." He added that the group's donations go to members of Congress in both parties who "are working to advance sensible policies and regulations that drive creation of groundbreaking products that improve lives and our environment and enhance the economic vitality of communities everywhere."
  • American Council of Engineering Companies: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Council of Life Insurers: Gave $5,000 to Cornyn and $12,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that "life insurers have been providing invaluable support to consumers and the U.S. economy" throughout the pandemic.
  • American Dental Association: Gave $25,000 to Cornyn and $30,000 to McConnell. In an emailed statement, the group said, "Dentists continue to care for patients throughout this pandemic helping people maintain both oral and overall health. Yet dentists remain vulnerable to the threat of unwarranted and unfair lawsuits," adding that it "urges Congress to consider targeted and limited liability protections for dentists in the same way they are considering liability protection for other health care professionals who continue to treat COVID-19 under unprecedented conditions. ... The American Dental Political Action Committee (ADPAC) is a bipartisan political action committee that supports candidates from all political parties, in order to provide dentists a voice in the public policy arena on behalf of their patients, dental practice and profession."
  • American Forest and Paper Association: Gave $6,000 to Cornyn and $10,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group's political donations "are consistent cycle after cycle in that we give to both Democrats and Republicans in House and Senate leadership," and that the group signed on to the letter because "Essential businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. They deserve commonsense protections so they can continue to focus on fueling our recovery and helping manufacturers respond to this crisis."
  • American Gas Association: Gave $11,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Health Care Association & National Center for Assisted Living: Gave $3,000 to Cornyn and $17,500 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group is "advocating for limited and reasonable liability protection to cover providers and staff members for making good faith efforts. Our health care heroes in long term care are on the frontline of this pandemic response, and it is critical that the federal government and states provide the necessary liability protection staff and providers need to continue to offer quality care during this challenging time without fear of reprisal."
  • American Hotel & Lodging Association: Gave $25,000 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Institute of CPAs: Gave $22,500 to Cornyn and $28,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Medical Association: Gave $20,000 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Property Casualty Insurance Association: Gave $7,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Resort Development Association: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Trucking Associations: Gave $3,000 to Cornyn and $2,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • American Veterinary Medical Association: Gave $2,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Argentum: Gave $12,500 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Asian American Hotel Owners Association: Gave $12,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors: Gave $20,000 to Cornyn and $30,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Associated Equipment Distributors: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Associated General Contractors of America: Gave $40,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson confirmed the information in an email, writing that the group's political action committee supports "candidates of either party that support common-sense, pro-growth economic measures that stimulate demand for new infrastructure and development projects" and that "the majority of our members tell us the measure they need most out of Washington is liability reform so that employers who have put in place all appropriate coronavirus safety precautions are not forced to endure needless litigation."
  • Biotechnology Innovation Organization: Gave $1,000 to Cornyn and $1,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Association: Gave $21,000 to Cornyn and $30,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Consumer Bankers Association: Gave $7,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Credit Union National Association: Gave $1,000 to Cornyn and $32,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • CTIA-The Wireless Association: Gave $2,000 to Cornyn and $7,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Distilled Spirits Council of the United States: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Edison Electric Institute: Gave $25,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Federation of American Hospitals: Gave $10,000 to Cornyn and $28,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Independent Electrical Contractors: Gave $1,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group's PAC "is bipartisan and distributes millions of dollars each election cycle, supporting the campaigns of Democratic and Republican candidates for federal office that support small business."
  • International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions: Gave $1,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • International Council of Shopping Centers: Gave $11,000 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • International Foodservice Distributors Association: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • International Franchise Association: Gave $6,500 to Cornyn and $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Manufactured Housing Institute: Gave $7,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Medical Device Manufacturers Association: Gave $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Motion Picture Association: Gave $3,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Apartment Association: Gave $26,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of Broadcasters: Gave $25,000 to Cornyn and $52,400 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of Chain Drug Stores: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions: Gave $11,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of Manufacturers: Gave $5,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson noted in an email that in April the group "released targeted Pandemic Liability Policy Recommendations as part of the American Renewal Action Plan" and pointed to a July 28 statement in favor of the legislative proposal.
  • National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies: Gave $12,500 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email: "NAMIC believes that businesses, health care providers, non-profits, and other entities making a good faith effort to adopt health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should not also have to worry about frivolous lawsuits as they try to survive this pandemic."
  • National Association of Professional Employer Organizations: Gave $2,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of REALTORS: Gave $30,000 to Cornyn and $35,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors: Gave $5,000 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson responded to an inquiry for this story by sending a conservative group's description of the American Independent Foundation.
  • National Automobile Dealers Association: Gave $25,000 to Cornyn and $35,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Community Pharmacists Association: Gave $2,500 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in a phone interview that the group tries to balance donations to both parties and typically supports leadership and committee chairs. "We're certainly grateful that both of them support that legislation but it isn't the singular factor. There's lots of other reasons," he said. He noted that the liability shield is a "huge priority for independent pharmacists because they've remained open, they're essential businesses, and they've done so to take care of their patients. One lawsuit can wipe them out," adding that they have "operated in completely good faith and should have some protection from the kind of predatory lawsuits that are bound to come when this is all over."
  • National Cotton Council: Gave $17,000 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Electrical Contractors Association: Gave $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Grocers Association: Gave $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Independent Automobile Dealers Association: Gave $2,500 to Cornyn. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Mining Association: Gave $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Multifamily Housing Council: Gave $10,000 to Cornyn and $35,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Ready Mixed Concrete Association: Gave $7,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Restaurant Association: Gave $20,000 to Cornyn and $25,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the group is working to help restaurants stay open safely. "As the nation's second-largest private sector employer, the restaurant industry will be an essential component of our recovery from this national health crisis," he wrote. "We engage with elected officials through our grassroots network, through restaurant owners and employees, and through our political action committee to ensure their understanding of the unique business operations of this industry and the role it plays in driving the economy."
  • National Retail Federation: Gave $5,000 to Cornyn and $6,000 to McConnell. A spokesperson confirmed the information.
  • National Roofing Contractors Association: Gave $17,500 to Cornyn and $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation: Gave $24,500 to Cornyn and $10,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • National Federation of Independent Business: Gave $9,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • North American Meat Institute: Gave $5,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: Gave $5,500 to Cornyn and $12,500 to McConnell. The group declined to comment for this story.
  • Portland Cement Association: Gave $1,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association: Gave $7,500 to Cornyn and $12,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • The Aluminum Association: Gave $2,500 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • The Real Estate Roundtable: Gave $1,000 to Cornyn and $15,000 to McConnell. The group did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Gave $5,000 to Cornyn and $12,500 to McConnell. A spokesperson said in an email that the letter "states our position on the issue."

Neither McConnell nor Cornyn responded to inquiries for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.