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Some of the biggest companies in the United States have taken forceful stances against Georgia's new election law, which contains several restrictions that voting rights groups say will disproportionately affect Black voters.
The CEOs of Coca-Cola and Delta, two of the biggest companies headquartered in Georgia, released statements condemning the law after a sustained pressure campaign from activists. Executives from Apple, Microsoft, Google and American Express have also spoken out in defense of voting rights. Major League Baseball announced Friday that it would move its All-Star Game out of the Atlanta Braves stadium in response to what Commissioner Rob Manfred called “restrictions to the ballot box.”
Republicans in Georgia and nationwide have fired back at companies for criticizing the new law, which they claim will restore public faith in elections. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Washington, warned CEOs to “stay out of politics” and said that “corporations will invite serious consequences” if they take sides in partisan debates. Former President Donald Trump called for his supporters to boycott the companies while reiterating his baseless claim that the presidential election in Georgia and other swing states was stolen.
Why there’s debate
Many Democrats have praised companies and executives that have spoken out against the new voting restrictions. Some argue that corporations have a responsibility to use their influence to defend basic freedoms like fair elections, especially after so many of them expressed support for racial justice amid last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Others make the case that businesses aren’t obligated to weigh in but are well within their rights to make their stances on issues known if they choose.
A number of conservatives have accused these big corporations of caving to pressure from left-wing activists by taking sides in a partisan debate. They argue that companies should remain neutral on political topics that don’t directly affect their business. Some say it’s unfair for high-level executives to speak on behalf of an entire company when many employees might disagree.
Recent corporate activism has also been met with skepticism by some on the left, who have criticized companies for not taking more substantive action beyond public statements and for waiting until after Georgia’s law was signed to speak out on it. Others say corporations are taking these stances out of a cynical desire to promote their financial interests, not a true moral belief in the importance of voting rights.
Several lawsuits have been filed challenging the Georgia law, but legal experts say it’s uncertain whether the Supreme Court’s conservative majority might allow the law to stand. Democrats in Congress are also hoping to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would negate many of the provisions in the law.
Georgia has received the lion’s share of attention, but Republican lawmakers have moved to enact new voting restrictions in many states where they control legislatures. One tally by the Brennan Center for Justice found that more than 360 bills to restrict voting have been introduced nationwide.
There is no way to be neutral when it comes to defending fundamental rights
“There’s no ‘both sides of the debate’ when it comes to active voter suppression, and frankly it’s been damn encouraging this last week to see so many leaders of corporate America and the sports world starting to get it.” — Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer
Financial pressure shouldn’t be used to override the democratic process
“Economically punishing Georgia is a form of electoral blackmail.” — Zachary Faria, Washington Examiner
Companies have a power of influence that normal citizens don’t
“The truth is, the companies hold the cards. … If companies stick to their guns, Georgia is likely to back down as well. No state wants to be a corporate pariah. And no state wants to leave billions on the table if it can avoid it.” — Joe Nocera, Bloomberg
Corporations can make a real difference by endorsing bills to expand voting rights
“Denouncing bad bills and bad laws is a worthwhile step, but it's only a step. If these same corporations and executives are prepared to lobby in support of the ‘For the People Act’ in Congress, that may very well help make a more substantive difference.” — Steve Benen, MSNBC
Businesses should remain politically neutral
“Smart executives have long understood the value of political neutrality. Corporate America is now throwing its lot in with one of the most partisan, brass-knuckle, dishonest campaigns in recent political history.” — Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal
Without consistent follow-through, public statements are meaningless
“It’s really important that they remain involved, so this can’t just be — make a statement and disappear. We’ve got to see this through.” — NAACP policy director Lisa Cylar Barrett to NBC News
Now that they’ve spoken out once, companies will be asked to weigh in over and over
“When a company folds to the unfounded outrage of a few misinformed nuts, they are forever at the mob’s beck-and-call.” — Grace Curley, Boston Herald
Political statements are a cynical form of corporate marketing
“The truth is that Fortune 500 companies were never taking moral stances from the goodness of their corporate hearts.” — Helaine Olen, Washington Post
Executives shouldn’t impose their own beliefs on entire companies
“It is one thing for companies to make long-term business decisions, and political contributions, based on their desire for a better business climate for their own operations. … It is another entirely to subordinate the company’s business interests to a kulturkampf that seeks to force its values on an entire state. Companies that do this ooze contempt for their own customers and employees who are not in the leftmost quarter of opinion in the country.” — Editorial, National Review
Any democracy that relies on the whims of CEOs is in a dangerous place
“Our own lawmakers know that money will always talk much, much louder, far from a new revelation. But embracing that sentiment so openly, that the fate of voter access ... lies in the hands of some CEOs choosing to speak up, is nerve-wracking.” — Abigail Rosenthal, Chron
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