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A Zoom call will not save democracy
Over the weekend, about 100 corporate leaders gathered on a Zoom call to discuss how to respond to Republican efforts to restrict voting in nearly every state. Although the call was ostensibly private, news of the meeting was leaked to a slew of major media outlets. The coverage presented the CEOs and other leaders as engaged and ready to take on the GOP on voting rights.
During the call, according to the Washington Post, the executives "talked about potential ways to show they opposed the legislation, including by halting donations to politicians who support the bills and even delaying investments in states that pass the restrictive measures." But "no final steps were agreed upon." Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, and other leaders of the call "prepared a new statement that broadly supports voting rights, and they are asking big companies to sign it this week," the New York Times reports.
In one sense, the Zoom meeting was a step forward. It showed that corporate executives will not be bullied by Mitch McConnell, who warned last week for corporations to "stay out of politics." (McConnell clarified the next day that he was "not talking about political contributions.")
On the other hand, the nature of the meeting suggests that corporations are unprepared to engage in the issue with the urgency and focus needed to make a real impact. We saw this play out in Georgia, where corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola issued strong statements condemning new voting restrictions a week after the bill was signed into law. Many other corporations followed. But it was too late to make any difference in Georgia.
Today, the Texas legislature is rapidly advancing two measures, HB6 and SB7, to restrict voting. Many of the provisions are designed to make it more difficult to vote in Harris County, home to a large number of Black voters. SB7 has already been approved by the Texas Senate and could be scheduled for a vote any day. HB6 has been approved by committee and could soon receive a vote on the House floor.
But as of Monday afternoon, only three companies have specifically said they are opposed to the Texas bills:
American Airlines: "We are strongly opposed to this bill [SB7] and others like it. As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote."
Dell: "Instead of seeking to limit access, governments should provide innovative pathways for citizens to have their voices heard. Legislation like HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it."
Prudential: "[Prudential] believes in ensuring Americans have equal access to the right to vote, and we do not support this legislation."
Dozens of companies who have donated substantial sums to the sponsors of the Texas legislation have stayed silent. No company has said it would stop financially supporting members of the Texas legislature who sponsored the legislation.
While corporate executives debate and discuss potential action, the window of opportunity to impact the outcome in Texas and other states is closing.
The problem with broad statements
A couple of hundred corporations, including Capital One, Dow, Facebook, Target, and Uber, signed an April 2 statement organized by the Civic Alliance. "We believe every American should have a voice in our democracy and that voting should be safe and accessible to all voters," the statement begins. The statement broadly opposes "hundreds of bills threatening to make voting more difficult in dozens of states nationwide."
Now, corporations are considering releasing another statement. But these broad statements have little value. The proponents of these bills frequently claim, falsely, that their legislation does not restrict voting. This is exactly what Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) said, inaccurately, about SB7. So it's easy for Patrick and other Republicans to dismiss broad statements about voting rights as irrelevant.
This was also the tactic employed by Coca-Cola and Delta in Georgia. Both companies issued broad statements in support of voting rights and in opposition to voting restrictions before Governor Kemp (R) signed the bill into law. But neither company explicitly opposed the legislation.
Toyota donates to Republican objectors
After the January 6 insurrection, Toyota issued the following statement: "Given recent events and the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol, we are assessing our future PAC criteria." That assessment is apparently completed, and Toyota has decided to give money to several members of Congress who set the stage for the attack by objecting to the certification of the Electoral College. That vote was a validation of Trump's false claim that the election was stolen — the lie that motivated many of the rioters that day.
FEC filings over the last week reveal that Toyota has donated to at least five Republican objectors in March:
$1,000 to Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
$1,000 to Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OR)
$1,000 to Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV)
$1,000 to Congressman Barry Moore (R-AL)
$1,000 to Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)
Moore, for example, said he was prepared to "fight" for Trump on January 6.
After the violence of January 6, Moore expressed no regret and continued to defend Trump.
After January 6, Truist, a financial institution created when SunTrust and BB&T merged, said it was "carefully reviewing our political engagement practices to assure that Truist exclusively supports candidates who advance unity and democracy." On March 25, Foxx reported a $2,500 contribution from Truist. Other corporations that have donated to Republican objectors include JetBlue and Altria.
Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2021 are not due until April 15. So we are only getting a peek at the political activity of corporations based on a handful of members of Congress who filed early. Popular Information will have more updates soon.