corporate accountability

Red Light, Don't Buy: Spending Spotlight Helps Consumers Align Purchases With Their Values


Earlier this month, Spending Spotlight launched as a resource dedicated to providing consumers with tools to make values-based decisions, with an initial focus on highlighting companies that have donated to politicians advancing legislation attacking LGBTQ+ rights.

The organization's website rates major companies across eight categories using a traffic light system -- with green-light companies those who do not donate to the most extremist anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and red-light companies the worst offenders.

Consumers can use such information, for example, to decide to switch from shopping at Home Depot -- due to its anti-LGBTQ+ financial ties -- to competitors like Ace Hardware and True Value. Or a consumer might consider having products purchased online shipped via the U.S. Postal Service or DHL, instead of UPS or FedEx.



Spending Spotlight also provides visitors with resources to contact companies about their decision to switch directly, to share with friends on social media, and highlights the degree to which deciding to switch one or two regular purchase decisions can affect businesses.

Spending Spotlight CEO John Mullin started the group out of a desire to provide consumers with an easy way to make an impact with their purchasing decisions. The impetus for the organization, he told Marketing Daily, stemmed from a particularly bleak stretch of time in 2022 -- which saw multiple mass shootings, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, and escalating attacks on LGBTQ+ rights -- and his feeling that “I’d had enough, but didn’t know what to do.”

After reading about companies that talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk on reproductive rights  -- they were vocal about providing financial support to employees traveling out of state to obtain an abortion, while simultaneously supporting politicians who’d created the situation in the first place -- he went searching for a resource to easily identify those companies. He realized there wasn’t one.  He also recognized that the lack of transparency about corporate political donations was a problem stretching well beyond any single issue.

In its early stages, Spending Spotlight identified LGBTQ+ rights, gun violence prevention, voting rights and threats to democracy as additional issues people had visceral responses to, ultimately electing to launch around LGBTQ+ rights for Pride Month. Mullin wanted to find a way to distill information about specific politicians’ attacks on LGBTQ+ rights into something that allowed “for the average person to take action on it,” he explained.

From there, the group looked into how to research the issue using existing data resources, such as Open Secrets and the SEC’s website. In categorizing brands’ political donations, Spending Spotlight also chose to limit its focus on donations since 2022 going directly to those extremist politicians most involved in attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.

“We wanted to make sure the info is very credible,” Mullin said. “We developed a more detailed and nuanced rubric for identifying legislators [most responsible for driving this issue],” which included details like whether they were members of a specific caucus, ratings from advocacy organizations, politicians’ degree of sponsorship of specific legislation, and “how much they’re on the pulpit leading the charge against LGBTQ+ rights.”

While limiting offending donations to those most responsible for attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, Mullin estimated the data only covers around 20% of those connected to anti-LGBTQ+ positions overall. “We want to be accurate but conservative in how we present information,” he explained. “I do believe there is a group in the center that would like to find common ground on these things, but [those extremists] prevent progress.”

Having identified target legislators, the group then worked to identify consumer categories and brands to focus on for the initial launch -- with plans to expand later. The aim was to locate categories where consumers have “lots of alternatives and low friction to making a change,” to provide a small list of easy switches consumers can make to have an impact, he explained.

“In our testing, even the most motivated consumers get a sense of overwhelm when they think about all the potential things that they might have to switch if they were to do this throughout all of their purchasing,” Mullin said. “Our thought was, don't let perfect get in the way of good enough.”

He added: “I view where we are as a starting spot.” According to Spending Spotlight’s website, it plans to expand its focus to reproductive rights some time in the coming months, and gun safety this fall.

“It’s getting harder and harder to separate [corporate political donations from brand identity and consumer perception],” he notes.  “I’d point to younger generations [who] are very much focused on it,” Mullin said. “It feels like people are focusing on the total package of the company.”

Next story loading loading..