David Black says his aha! moment came in the grocery store parking lot after church one day in 2011, when his wife criticized him for impulsively agreeing to give a dollar to March of Dimes. Didn’t he know the group supports Planned Parenthood?
Black’s wife is Republican Representative Diane Black, a candidate for Tennessee governor and chair of the powerful House Budget Committee. The Blacks made their fortune creating and selling Aegis Science Corp., the drug-testing company they founded in 1990, based on David’s work as a forensic toxicologist at Vanderbilt University. The company sold for an undisclosed amount in 2014, and Black stayed on as chief executive officer until last year.
In 2012 he began meeting with some tech-savvy evangelical friends to discuss what eventually became 2ndVote Inc., a conservative answer to liberal watchdog groups such as Color of Change that pressure companies to support progressive causes. Black’s organization developed a website and smartphone app that rates the conservative values of retailers and nonprofit groups on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and immigration.
Black estimates 2ndVote has about 350,000 registered users. “We are an organization that allows people to act on the information,” he says. So far the group has scored about 700 companies and nonprofits on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is the most liberal, 5 the most conservative). Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and the National Rifle Association score a 5. Apple Inc. and the American Federation of Teachers are among the 1s. The March of Dimes, which says its funds go only to prenatal care at Planned Parenthood, got a 2.7. Black says companies are sent their ratings by registered mail before they’re published.
Color of Change, whose financial backers include George Soros, the Ford Foundation, and Facebook Inc.co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, has used a $10 million war chest to go after companies that take a GOP position or support President Trump. Victories include being able to reduce corporate sponsorship of the Republican National Convention and pressuring CEOs of companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and Campbell Soup Co. to quit Trump’s advisory councils. Black says he has a tenth of the budget of Color of Change, mostly from his own fortune, but he can call on powerful conservatives such as Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council when an issue needs more firepower. “We want corporations to focus on having a great product, a great service, get out of the culture wars,” he says.
Black, who grew up in Michigan and served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam, points to two of his most successful campaigns—one in which 2ndVote urged users to boycott Target Corp. after the retailer said transgender customers were welcome to use the bathroom of their gender preference. Target eventually agreed to spend $20 million to add single-user bathrooms in all of its locations. Black also claims responsibility for successfully pressuring clothing brand Lands’ End to pull a promotional interview with Gloria Steinem, who supports abortion.
In Congress, Diane Black has led the fight to make sure House-passed Obamacare repeal bills eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. She’s also been a critic of NFL players protesting during the national anthem. The NFL doesn’t have a 2ndVote rating, but David says the recent controversy has helped drive “several significant bumps” in its user base.
His wife’s gubernatorial run won’t mean any changes for 2ndVote, Black says. The focus is on how to improve the app. One idea is to tie the rating to geography so that people can use it to find conservative businesses nearby. “If you decide you’re not going to buy Starbucks coffee today because of what they’re supporting, we would love to be able to geographically on the app show you where your Dunkin’ Donuts may be, or your next best option,” Black says. Starbucks Corp. is rated a 1. Dunkin’ Donuts is a 2.7; Tim Hortons Inc. is a 3. —With Erik Wasson