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GOP convention sponsors have second thoughts as online activists notch win

ColorOfChange and Credo Action pressure 30 big companies to ditch or curtail their sponsorship of the Republican National Convention because of its divisive candidate. Half, including Apple and HP, listen.

Members of activist groups ColorOfChange and Credo Action chant while delivering 500,000 petition signatures to Google's HQ.

Photo by Credo

One by one they dropped out.

HP, which donated $1 million in funds and tech equipment to the past two Republican National Conventions, abruptly said it would snub this year's GOP gathering in Cleveland.

Apple, which committed computers and iPhones to the last two Republican conventions, also sent its regrets. Motorola, which donated more than $600,000 during the 2012 RNC, took the same path.

The series of cancellations caps a remarkable victory for ColorOfChange and Credo Action, online activist groups that began pressuring some of the biggest corporations in the country to withdraw from what's shaping up to be the most contentious political gathering in nearly half a century. Using social media, online petitions and calls, the two groups targeted 30 major companies, prompting half to cancel or curtail their participation in the event, where Donald Trump is expected to be named the Republican Party's presidential candidate.

In a blast of emails and tweets, the organizations warned companies that Trump's divisive campaign and tactics would tarnish their well-polished brands. Did the companies want to be associated with a candidate who has repeatedly attacked women, immigrants and minorities? they asked corporate leaders.

"Any sponsorship of a Trump-led convention will be an endorsement of his hate-filled and racist rhetoric and runs counter to the values of your company," ColorOfChange wrote in an open letter posted on its website and later mailed to the companies. It asked the companies to reject Trump's "violently racist, misogynistic and xenophobic rhetoric and immediately cancel your sponsorship of a Trump-led" convention.

"If an employee of any corporation said what Trump says in the workplace, they would be fired," said Arisha Michelle Hatch, the organization's political-action director. "It's not fair of these companies, if they claim they care about diversity and inclusion, to sponsor and amplify and provide a platform for this hateful rhetoric."

The message resonated. Fifteen companies, which included Ford, Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo, in addition to the tech giants, withdrew or reduced their involvement.

Meg Whitman, the board chair of HP and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, reportedly compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini at a gathering that included Republican bigwigs.

HP didn't verify that Whitman made those comparisons, but the company confirmed it would not provide support to either the Republican or Democratic conventions. The other companies mentioned in this story either declined to comment or didn't respond to requests for comment -- apart from Facebook, which, as explained elsewhere in this article, will have a presence at both events.

The Trump campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

In addition to asking companies to withdraw financial contributions to the convention, ColorofChange and Credo are still asking firms like Google and Microsoft, which plan to participate, to refrain from providing equipment and services, a common way companies get promotion.

"They're going to tarnish their brands by associating them with Trump," said Heidi Hess, a senior campaign manager at Credo. "If they are willing to put their popular names behind him, they are contributing to a deeply troubling national campaign based on hate."

Plane towing Dump Trump sign

An airplane trailing a "Dump Trump" banner flies over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The plane visited Google's headquarters south of the bay in Mountain View.

Photo by Credo

Political observers say the activist organizations clearly struck a chord with the companies, which jealously protect their brands and seek to influence business policy. The conventions are widely watched, giving companies an opportunity to promote their products and services at a nationally televised event. The conventions also give companies an opportunity to burnish their connections with a potential administration.

David Brady, a Stanford University political economy professor, says getting so many big companies to cancel their participation marks a triumph for the activists.

"The companies believe that the cost of being associated with Donald Trump is simply not worth it," Brady said. "There's no cost to not supporting the RNC, because it doesn't mean Republicans aren't going to buy their products."

Of course, the RNC isn't hurting for money. More than $58.5 million has been donated, roughly 90 percent of the projected fund-raising total, according to Emily Lauer, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.

And some companies are still planning to participate.

Google will provide the GOP with live-streaming services, which it also offered for the 2012 convention. That's a disappointment for Credo, which delivered a petition with half a million signatures to Google's Silicon Valley headquarters in April. A plane commissioned by Credo flew over the company's HQ with a banner reading "Google: Don't be evil. #DumpTrump."

Software giant Microsoft will provide the RNC with a host of products, including software and Surface laptops to help "record accurate vote counts" and share "information quickly and accurately with delegates and the public," company executive Fred Humphries wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

Microsoft won't, however, make financial contributions to the RNC, after reportedly donating $1.5 million during the 2012 convention in Tampa, Florida. It will also provide products and services to the Democratic National Convention.

Facebook and Twitter will have a presence at both the RNC and DNC. Each social-media company will have a lounge area where attendees can "like," "share," and "tweet" during the event, depending on which service they're using.

"This support allows Facebook to facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates and elected officials during the conventions," Erin Egan, a Facebook public policy executive, said in an email.

Twitter will also be partnering with CBS News to live-stream CBSN's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the RNC. (CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

ColorOfChange began its campaign in February.

Shortly after, its representatives began meeting with representatives of Coca-Coca, which was the first major corporation to drop its sponsorship. Soon after, the organization was meeting with other companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, Facebook and Google.

ColorOfChange says it will have a presence in Cleveland, where it will attempt to get corporations to reconsider their position at the 11th hour.

COC's Hatch says the organization wants companies to make a "moral choice" and stand up against a force that is stirring "hatred and resentment" toward minority communities.

"This isn't about left (wing) versus right (wing)," COC's Hatch said. "This is about right versus wrong."

Election 2016

It's election year, when candidates hit the campaign trail and craft sound bites they hope will win votes while attacking the opposition. More than ever, 2016 will be the year the politicians, pundits, pollsters and people turn to Facebook, Twitter and other social media to deliver their messages. CNET News' reporters will be there to help you cut through the noise and figure out what they're really talking about.

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