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Florida cable companies won’t air abortion ad bashing Disney, others

One Republican lawmaker said the ad from a liberal group is a part of “corporate cancel culture.”
University of Texas women rally at the Texas Capitol to protest Governor Greg Abbott's signing of the nation's strictest abortion law that makes it a crime to abort a fetus after six weeks, or when a "heartbeat" is detected. Abbott signed the law Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021.
University of Texas women rally at the Texas Capitol to protest Governor Greg Abbott's signing of the nation's strictest abortion law that makes it a crime to abort a fetus after six weeks, or when a "heartbeat" is detected. Abbott signed the law Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021.
Published Oct. 19
Updated Oct. 19

TALLAHASSEE — A Democratic research and political advocacy group wants some of America’s most powerful companies to stop donating to Florida abortion opponents. But local television markets won’t air the group’s ad.

Last week, American Bridge 21st Century planned to launch a six-figure ad blitz — the group wouldn’t specify the exact size — in three Florida media markets to call out AT&T, Disney, and NBCUniversal for donating money to anti-abortion politicians. The commercial accused the corporations of backing politicians who plan to pass an abortion law like Texas’ “heartbeat bill,” which bans nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“Lawmakers did it in Texas, and now they want to try to do it in Florida,” actors say in the ad. “Big corporate money is funding them. What are they doing?”

According to an analysis by the American Bridge, AT&T, Disney and NBCUniversal have given nearly $453,000 combined to Republican state lawmakers in Florida who have sponsored abortion restrictions. American Bridge got its campaign finance data from the nonprofit, nonpartisan FollowTheMoney.org, which tracks campaign donations across the country.

A spokesperson for AT&T noted that the company also has donated to politicians who support abortion rights.

“AT&T has never taken a position on abortion legislation, and its employee political action committees have never based contribution decisions on a legislator’s positions on the issue of abortion,” the spokesperson, Margaret Boles, said in an emailed statement Friday.

Spokespeople for Disney and NBCUniversal did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Both of those companies also have given money to politicians who support abortion rights.

The Democratic group was already running digital ads about abortion in Florida. But last week, they planned to run the cable spot in Tallahassee, Tampa and Orlando as part of its “Corporate Accountability Action” project. On Friday, the group was told local cable providers had declined to run it. The activists had tried to place the commercial via the interconnect, a process that allows advertisers to make one purchase with a large cable company to reach the subscribers of multiple providers. In Tallahassee, Comcast was the company that declined to air the ads for the market. In Tampa and Orlando, Spectrum said no.

A spokesperson for Effectv, the ad sales division of Comcast Cable, said the American Bridge ad “did not comply with the company’s ‘Personal Attack’ guidelines.” Those rules say Comcast can reject an ad if it is “merely an attack of a personal nature, a direct attack on an individual business or comment on a private dispute.”

A spokesperson for Spectrum also said the ad did not meet its guidelines.

It’s not the first time American Bridge has had difficulty placing an ad. Earlier this year, the Dallas Morning News rejected an ad from the group that criticized AT&T for backing the sponsors of the Texas abortion law. The Dallas paper said it too was following its advertising policy, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Florida’s leaders have said they will look at the abortion issue this legislative session, which starts Jan. 11. But it’s unclear if they will pursue a Texas-style law, which bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable — before many women know they are pregnant. The Texas law also has a controversial provision that essentially deputizes regular people to report violations of the ban.

Related: Florida Legislature will consider abortion heartbeat bill, Senate president says

One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, has already filed a bill like the Texas law. But House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, have yet to come out in support of such a measure. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supports abortion restrictions, has also not made his legislative intentions clear.

Some Republicans are wary of a Texas-style effort. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who will serve as the Senate President beginning in the fall of 2022, said in an interview last week she does not support the citizen enforcement provision in the Texas law.

“Those people who say that if we allow neighbors to turn neighbors in we will save lives: think about the alternative. How many people died in Nazi Germany because people turned people in?” said Passidomo, who also supports abortion restrictions. “We don’t do that in this country.”

Passidomo is not on American Bridge’s list of Republican state lawmakers who have sponsored laws limiting abortion access in the past. The group isn’t criticizing Passidomo’s donors. It’s criticizing firms who have donated to lawmakers such as Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula — one of 28 lawmakers the group planned to call out in a press release announcing the local ad buy.

In an interview Friday, Albritton said he had not heard of American Bridge, but he called the group’s tactics “the worst that politics has to offer,” and an example of “corporate cancel culture.”

“If they’re going to highlight the fact that these corporations have given money to pro-life legislators, why don’t they check the record? I guarantee they’ve given money to Democrats too,” Albritton said. “At the end of the day, if you’re only going to tell one side of the story, it’s called a half-truth, which also means half-lie.
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