Here at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, at least 19 corporations that usually sponsor the event have dramatically scaled back or canceled their commitments, citing Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities. Last week, a leaked letter from the Cleveland host committee asked billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson to help cover a $6 million shortfall, and listed more than a dozen corporate and individual donors who have withdrawn their pledges, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, FedEx and Visa. Other companies who sponsored the 2012 RNC but say they will not be returning this year include Apple, Wells Fargo, UPS, Motorola, JPMorgan Chase, Walgreens and Ford. We speak to Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.
AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland, Ohio, for the week. This is “Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.”
At least 19 corporations that usually sponsor the RNC have dramatically scaled back or canceled their commitments, citing the presumptive nominee Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and people of color. Last week, a leaked letter from the Cleveland host committee asked billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson to help cover a $6 million shortfall, and listed more than a dozen corporate and individual donors who have withdrawn their pledges, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, FedEx and Visa. Other companies who sponsored the 2012 RNC, but say they won’t be returning this year, include Apple, Wells Fargo, UPS, Motorola, JPMorgan Chase, Walgreens and Ford. This comes as the civil rights group Color of Change has pressured corporations not to endorse Trump’s, quote, “hateful and racist rhetoric,” unquote, or face a boycott.
For more, we’re joined by Color of Change’s executive director, Rashad Robinson.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
RASHAD ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell as what you did, Rashad.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, back in February, early february, we started to see the tea leaves of Donald Trump. And we’ve been watching Donald Trump for years. Five years ago, we ran our first campaign against Donald Trump, when he was doing his birther rant and asking for transcripts from President Obama. But his work spans even before that, with the Central Park Five. And so, we recognized that this convention was going to be coming up. And even if he wasn’t the winner at the time, he was threatening riots if he wasn’t. He was saying there could be potentially riots.
And we were looking at the list of corporations, so we started to do some research, and we looked into the corporations that had sponsored four years ago and eight years ago. We have a big problem with campaign finance. And we have—we need a systemic, long-term work around this, not just this particular campaign, because most corporations—any corporation doesn’t have to disclose 'til 60 days after the convention. So we had to spend a lot of time researching. But we started behind-the-scenes conversations. We would send letters, and then we would start with conversations behind the scenes, with Coca-Cola and others, while also starting a public campaign with our members, telling them about what these corporations do, the access they're trying to buy and the relationship that they’re trying to have. And through the back-and-forth conversations, we were able to get Coca-Cola to leave. We actually had to go public on Coca-Cola a little bit, as well. And after Coca-Cola decided that they were going to pull out over $500,000 less than sort of what they had given previously, we moved to Microsoft and other corporations.
As we started to hear back from corporations, corporations would say things to us like, “We give to both sides. This is about civic engagement.” And we would say, “This is not about left or right, but about right or wrong.” We used a whole lot of really creative tactics, everything from running ads through IP addresses to Silicon—within Silicon Valley to employees of corporations. Where we didn’t get what—we didn’t hear what we wanted to hear from the leadership, we would go in directly to the staff, and we would say, you know, “You all are working for a place. You may care about climate. You may care about diversity. You may care about women’s rights or LGBT rights or Black Lives Matter. But you all are working for a place that’s supporting Donald Trump and is going to be helping to support a celebration.”
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did these corporations tell you they were pulling out? And did all pull out—and we named Ford, Walgreens, JPMorgan Chase, Motorola, UPS, Wells Fargo Apple—or did they simply give less?
RASHAD ROBINSON: So, a mix of them gave less. A mix of them, by the time our corporate campaign had started, had already given some cash or had already moved some money, and so they couldn’t get the money back. So, Coca-Cola was an example where they had given $75,000 back in 2015 to start off and had probably a plan of giving upwards of a million dollars total. Once we started our campaign, they shut off all additional money. Some corporations had already committed to giving things that were in kind and who already signed contracts around that, but we were able to get them to pull back on cash. And then some corporations, like Apple and others, HP, decided no money whatsoever and gave nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you had a hundred executives from tech companies writing an open letter against Donald Trump’s nomination?
RASHAD ROBINSON: And leveraging that, right? When they started to write these letters and then—and then, at the same time, we’re seeing these corporations still give money, we say there’s a disconnect between your language of saying, “We don’t like Donald Trump,” but that you’re going to actually support a celebration for him, with streamers and balloons and Confederate flags. And we were very clear. We drew up ads that we never had to run. We ran billboards in Silicon Valley. At every point, corporations would try to find a way to sort of slow-walk us or say, “You know, we’re still trying to make our decision,” and we would give them timelines and deadlines. We also worked to build a multiracial coalition of organizations to really support this campaign, from Muslim advocates to Latino Victory Fund to UltraViolet, a women’s organization, LGBT organizations and progressive groups like MoveOn and CREDO, building a coalition of folks that, once we started this campaign, came on board and helped to build a movement to say to corporations, “You can’t come for our money by day and support Trump by night.”
AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, after the Dallas shootings, and now we have the Baton Rouge police shootings, not to mention the shootings of residents, you were invited to the White House for a summit with President Obama when he came back from the Dallas memorial service.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Mm-hmm.
What happened there? And what are you demanding?
RASHAD ROBINSON: You know, it was a four-hour meeting with law enforcement and civil rights leaders. I specifically brought the demands that Color of Change has, which is to defund police departments that are simply unable to value black lives. We’re here in Cleveland, where the Cleveland Police Department now has riot gear that they’re going to get to keep afterwards, even though they’re under [consent] decree. You know, we—
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s just talk about that.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: They’re under a Justice Department consent decree.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: They’re being watched by the Justice Department. They got $50 million for the Republican National Convention, covering it. Twenty million will go to the riot gear, that they get to keep afterwards.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Absolutely. And, you know, we’ve—I’ve been on the ground in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, and watched the militarization of our police departments. We’ve watched Baton Rouge—the Baton Rouge—the police department has gotten $3 million from the Justice Department over the last five years, even while having multiple civil rights investigations. We continue to see the fact that we are not changing the incentive structure between federal government money and what local enforcement do.
So we went to the White House because we continue to bring demands to the White House, and we’re always willing to have conversation and dialogue. But more than conversation and dialogue, we need action, because without action, we will continue to be in this place five, 10, 15 years from now. So, as we work to mobilize our members, I brought the concerns of our—and I also had a real back and forth with the head of Fraternal Order of Police, who unfortunately will continue to come to these conversations, but never offer up a demand.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to find out what you said and post it online at democracynow.org.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, thanks so much for being with us. That concludes our two hours of daily broadcast the first day from the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland. Tune in every day and tell your friends. Special thanks to David Prude and Denis Moynihan. Happy birthday to Laura Gottesdiener and Paul Huckeby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.