America’s corporate elites recently held a conference call on Zoom to discuss how to push back against voter suppression bills being pushed by Republican politicians in dozens of states, according to a Monday report by the Washington Post.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the total lack of evidence Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election by any fraudulent means, polling shows most Republicans believe the election was illegitimate. These completely baseless, made-up claims of mass Democratic voter fraud, which were relentlessly pushed by Donald Trump and his allies before and after Election Day, served as the official rationale for a noxious voter-suppression bill recently passed by Republican legislators in Georgia and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp. Republicans have been pushing similar bills nationwide, hard, in a naked effort to prevent communities more likely to vote for Democrats—many of which, not coincidentally, have large populations of people of color—from voting.
Georgia’s SB 202 gave the Republican-controlled General Assembly total control over state and local election boards, extends voter ID requirements to absentee ballots, limits the number of absentee ballot boxes, and sharply limits early voting in runoffs by cutting the time between general elections and runoffs from nine weeks to four. A number of other provisions may make it easier to vote in precincts that tend to favor Republican politicians and harder in ones that tend to vote Democratic.
A tracker kept by the Brennan Center for Justice showed that as of March 24, legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. Legiscan data shows 89 percent of those were sponsored primarily or exclusively by Republicans, per FiveThirtyEight, and the most targeted states (Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania) all happened to be relatively tight races that ended with Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.
Per the Post, attendees on the call included executives from “major airlines, retailers and manufacturers—plus at least one NFL owner” who discussed options such as halting donations to politicians who vote in favor of such measures or limiting their investments in states where they are passed. Sources told the Post that the meeting of corporate elites, organized by Yale management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfield, didn’t agree on any “final step.” But Sonnenfield told the paper the meeting was indicative that corporate America isn’t being swayed by threats of retaliation from Republican politicians:
The online call between corporate executives on Saturday “shows they are not intimidated by the flak. They are not going to be cowed,” Sonnenfeld said. “They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous.”
Leaders from dozens of companies such as Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target, LinkedIn, Levi Strauss and Boston Consulting Group, along with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, were included on the Zoom call, according to people who listened in. [...] The discussion — scheduled to last one hour but going 10 minutes longer — was led at times by Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, who told the executives that it was important to keep fighting what they viewed as discriminatory laws on voting.
As a class, corporate executives normally love the GOP’s agenda of bending over backward to please big business and the very wealthy. While OpenSecrets data shows some of the companies involved in the call—Boston Consulting Group, Levi Strauss, LinkedIn, and Starbucks—lean heavily or exclusively Democrat in their political donations via affiliates or political action committees, others like Delta, American, United, and Target have given hundreds of thousands or millions to GOP politicians in recent years.
Gizmodo recently reported that big telecom companies like AT&T, which are now issuing vague statements of opposition to the voting bills, bankrolled Republican candidates and causes for years. Reuters research showed that the political action committees associated with 10 major companies, including Microsoft, Walmart, AT&T, and Comcast, entirely stopped donating to the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to throw out the 2020 election results but gave them over $2 million in the last election cycle.
Republicans are steaming mad that the same corporations that funded them are now publicly distancing themselves, and they’ve promised to retaliate. The Georgia House has threatened to revoke Delta’s tax credits, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned companies invite “serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs,” and Republicans in Congress said they would try to revoke Major League Baseball’s federal antitrust exemptions after it pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta in protest of SB 202.
But this does not mean that corporations are somehow bastions of left-wing thought now—as the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer argues, they’ve long enjoyed ultra-preferential treatment in ways that make them richer like tax cuts, legislative and judicial assaults on labor rights, and deregulation. By no means were these handouts the monopoly of either major U.S. political party, but they are generally easier to obtain when corrupt reactionaries, of which the GOP is disproportionately composed, are in power. These companies have also largely had nothing to say as Republican politicians eagerly used anti-democratic methods to consolidate control of state governments in the past few decades. It’s hard to imagine that corporations will be interested in continued feuding with the GOP beyond the current branding exercise.
It’s just that right now, Trump-era Republicans have made themselves such a toxic brand that no one wants to be associated with them. As Serwer noted, “responding to market incentives by making public displays of support for egalitarianism and nondiscrimination... is not the same as corporations actually supporting those things.”
“There was a defiance of the threats that businesses should stay out of politics,” Sonnenfeld told the Post of the call. “They were obviously rejecting that even with their presence (on the call). But they were there out of concern about voting restrictions not being in the public interest.”