Pressure is mounting on leading companies in Texas, Arizona, and other states, particularly after Major League Baseball’s decision Friday to move the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta. The move came a week after Georgia Republicans enacted an overhaul of the state’s
Other companies have, somewhat belatedly, joined the chorus of critics. Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Co., two of Georgia’s best-known brands, this week called the new law “unacceptable,” although they had a hand in writing it. That only angered Republicans, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and several U.S. senators, who accused the companies of cowering from unwarranted attacks from the left.
The fight has thrust corporate America into a place it often tries to avoid — the center of a partisan political fight. But under threat of boycott and bad publicity, business leaders this week showed a fresh willingness to enter the fray on an issue not directly related to their bottom line, even when it meant alienating Republican allies.
“We want to hold corporations accountable for how they show up when voting rights are under attack,” said Marc Banks, an NAACP spokesman. “Corporations have a part to play, because when they do show up and speak, people listen.”
Civil rights groups have filed federal lawsuits to block the new Georgia law, which was passed after Democrats flipped the once-reliably Republican state in an election former President Donald Trump falsely claimed was rife with fraud. Some activists have called for consumer boycotts of Delta, Coca-Cola and other firms. They dismiss business leaders’ assertions that they helped water down the bill to ease earlier, more restrictive proposals; business leaders, they argue, should have tried to block the plan altogether.
In Texas, the NAACP, League of Women Voters and League of United Latin American Citizens, among other organizations, are urging corporations in the state to speak out against a slate of Republican-backed voting proposals. “Democracy is good for business,” the campaign asserts.
Nine organizations took out full-page ads in the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News, the state’s leading newspapers, urging corporate opposition to the plan. The Texas proposal would limit some early voting hours, bar counties from setting up drive-thru voting and prohibit local officials from proactively sending applications for mail ballots before voters request them.
Unlike their Georgia-based counterparts, American Airlines and Dell Technologies didn’t wait for the Texas measure to pass. “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” American said in a statement.
Arizona, another battleground Biden flipped in November, hasn’t seen high-profile corporate players engage yet. But 30-plus groups sent a joint letter to Allstate Insurance, CVS Health and Farmers’ Insurance, among others, urging their public opposition to proposed voting restrictions. Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, a progressive group that signed the letter, said there’s been no response yet.
Other groups are demanding that corporations focus on Washington, where congressional Democrats are pushing measures intended to make it easier for Americans to vote, regardless of state laws. Among the changes, Democrats would enact automatic voter registration nationally and standardize access to early and mail voting.
Democrats also want to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require the federal government to approve all election procedures in states and locales with a history of discrimination. The Supreme Court struck down those provisions — which applied to Georgia and Arizona, among other states — in 2013.
Corporate giants were mostly quiet when Trump falsely claimed he lost because of fraud. And business leaders largely maintained caution as Republican state lawmakers used Trump’s lie to justify a flood of new bills to make it more cumbersome to vote.
The reticence was a stark contrast to how chambers of commerce reacted six years ago when Republican-run states pushed “religious freedom” measures. Indiana, under then-Gov. and future Vice President Mike Pence, saw immediate corporate backlash. After North Carolina passed a so-called “bathroom bill” limiting LGBTQ rights in 2016, PayPal scuttled expansion plans there and the NBA moved its all-star game from Charlotte. An AP analysis in 2017 found the reaction would eventually cost North Carolina at least $3.76 billion in lost business.
Then, Georgia’s corporate lobbying groups — with Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s backing — took no such chances, speaking out forcefully against Georgia conservatives’ version of a “religious freedom” bill. Lawmakers passed it anyway but Kemp’s predecessor, Republican Nathan Deal, vetoed it amid the chamber outcry.
Some Republicans dispute the comparison. Brian Robinson, a former top Deal aide who was part of the business coalition that publicly opposed the religious freedom bill, argued that measure “was clearly discriminatory” against LGBTQ citizens, while the nearly 100-page election bill is less clear-cut and is being misrepresented by Democrats and their allies.
Companies are reacting to “Twitter mobs demanding reaction to their false narrative,” he said.
National Republicans reacted even more harshly. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former and potentially future presidential candidate, slammed Delta with the hashtag “#WokeCorporateHypocrites.”