President Biden traveled to Atlanta on Tuesday and made his most impassioned plea for federal legislation to protect voting rights. Critically, Biden called on the Senate to make changes to its filibuster rules to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority. Only one Republican out of 50, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), is willing to even allow a debate on voting rights. So if the Senate maintains its current filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to overcome, it will not happen.
In other words, the only meaningful way to support voting rights is to also support filibuster reform. Absent filibuster reform, support for voting rights is just talk.
"I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress over the last two months," Biden said, "I’m tired of being quiet." Biden framed the issues as an extension of the civil rights movement, which resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. “I ask every elected official in America. Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace. Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis, or Bull Connor?” Biden said.
In 2021, Republicans "enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote" in 19 states. In many states, the legislation was justified "with falsehoods steeped in racism about election irregularities and breaches of election security." Biden called for the immediate passage of the Freedom to Vote Act, which would roll back the worst excesses of state laws by establishing national standards. Biden also called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would "would prevent changes to voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race…being implemented." It would restore that requirement for states that historically discriminated against minority voters, including Georgia, Florida, and Texas, to "pre-clear" changes to voting laws with the Justice Department.
Historically, corporate America was willing to advocate aggressively for voting rights and that helped overcome Republican opposition. In 2005, "the Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, sent a letter to President Bush urging him to support an extension of the Voting Rights Act." Other businesses, including Disney, CBS, Eli Lily, and Pfizer, followed suit. And corporations played a key role in convincing Bush to sign the legislation despite "strong resistance from southern Republicans."
Seventeen years later, corporate America still likes to talk about its support for voting rights. Last year, over 100 companies signed a letter declaring their principled support for voting rights, their opposition to the state bills restricting voting, and their belief that action to protect voting rights was critical.
But, as the fight for voting rights hits a critical juncture, virtually all of these corporations have gone quiet.
Corporate silence speaks volumes
In April 2021, 111 companies signed a public statement released by the Black Economic Alliance in opposition to “360+ state bills pending in 47 states that contain discriminatory voting measures.”
The statement declared that "voting is the lifeblood of our democracy." The corporate signatories called for "all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans." Notably, the corporations promised they were “willing and ready to unite in the fight to protect our democracy.” The statement was signed by Apple, Dell, Facebook, Ford, Google, GM, Johnson & Johnson, Lyft, Netflix, and Target.
Now, during a critical juncture for voting rights, nearly all of those companies are silent. Popular Information reached out to all 111 companies to see if they supported the Freedom to Vote Act and Biden’s call to amend the filibuster rules to protect voting rights. Only two of the 111 companies, Patagonia and Richer Poorer, told Popular Information that they supported filibuster reform to pass voting rights legislation.
“I am calling on the business community to join us in urging the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. These two federal bills will help ensure election integrity and that you and your neighbor have equitable access to the ballot box,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert said in a statement.
A few others expressed their support for voting rights legislation without commenting on filibuster reform. Most did not respond to Popular Information’s inquiry and have not made any other recent public statement.
Airbnb directed Popular Information to a tweet posted Tuesday that said, “The freedom to vote is everyone’s business. We have a responsibility to ensure our eligible communities can freely vote without discrimination. Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.” Civic Entertainment Group also told Popular Information, “We do support the Freedom to Vote Act and any measure that strengthens and projects voting.” Neither company answered a question about Biden's call to reform the filibuster.
Momentive, formerly known as SurveyMonkey, told Popular Information that it supports the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “We see the preservation of voting rights as central to our company vision of raising the bar for human experiences by amplifying individual voices, and it is an issue that transcends political party,” a Momentive spokesperson said. But the company declined to answer a question about the filibuster.
Plaid, a banking platform, told Popular Information that it had no “further comment beyond the statement previously signed.”
Corporate donations flow to Republicans blocking voting protections
A new report released by Accountable.US, a nonprofit that focuses on corporate accountability, found that “major corporations that claim to support voting rights” donated at least $644,500 in 2021 to Senate Republicans who blocked the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
In April, Amazon released a statement that said, “The ability to vote is one of the most prized fundamental rights in our American democracy, and Amazon supports policies that protect and expand these rights.” Amazon also signed the letter in April supporting voting protections. Amazon donated $30,000 in 2021 to “Republican Senators who refuse[d] to support the Freedom to Vote Act.”
Facebook, who also signed the letter in April, claims that it “support[s] making voting as accessible and broad-based as possible and oppose[s] efforts to make it harder for people to vote.” Facebook donated $27,500 to Republicans blocking voting rights legislation.
Other corporations that signed the letter in support of voting protections that were also among the top corporate donors to Senate Republicans blocking legislation to protect voting rights include Microsoft ($135,000), Target ($51,500), Dell ($41,000), and Cisco ($12,500).
Obstructing federal legislation to protect voting rights perpetuates lies about the 2020 election
The Republican efforts to filibuster federal legislation to protect voting rights cannot be separated from Trump's efforts to perpetuate lies about the 2020 presidential election.
After Trump left the White House in 2021, he demanded his allies at the state level pass legislation to restrict voting rights. That's exactly what they did in numerous states, including Georgia, Texas, Florida, Iowa, and Arizona. The legislation was written, for the most part, by state legislators who promoted Trump's lies about election fraud. The new laws targeted aspects of voting — including absentee voting, early voting, and drop boxes — that Trump falsely claimed were sources of fraudulent ballots.
The Freedom to Vote Act "establishes minimum requirements for how states conduct federal elections." Among other things, it "expands voter registration, requires a minimum number of days and hours for early voting, and creates a nationwide right to vote by mail." In short, it would roll back the "disenfranchisement schemes" that Trump advocated to validate his lies.
On Saturday, Trump will appear at a rally in Arizona, which has played a central role in his false claims about the 2020 election. He will be joined by a slew of election fraud conspiracy theorists, including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who is facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit for his false claims about voting machine manufacturer Dominion. Lindell is listed as a featured speaker. Also speaking will be Kari Lake, Trump's endorsed candidate for governor who says she would not have certified the presidential election results in Arizona had she been Governor in 2020.
While no Senators will be in attendance, Republican Senators who filibuster federal legislation to protect voting rights are effectively endorsing Trump's position. Republicans who vote to obstruct federal legislation are choosing to maintain the voter restriction laws that were created to validate Trump's lies about election fraud.
The silence from corporations who publicly claimed to be "willing and ready" to fight for voting rights makes the decision to filibuster much easier.
I mean, if you can't publicly commit to expanding voting rights, what are you even doing? Every one of these corporations should be hammered on their commitment to the cause.
We must hold corporations accountable. Since corporations are now people (cf. Citizens United), shouldn’t they be held to the same standards when they behave criminally? Or boycotted when they betray public trust? Of course, first they must understand that they serve the public—including their workers—not just their own corporate interests.