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UPDATE: Georgia corporations respond to pressure on voter suppression bills
A coalition of civil rights organizations is ratcheting up the pressure on Georgia-based corporations that are backing the sponsors of voter suppression legislation in the state legislature. The campaign started after Popular Information's March 3 report that revealed the corporate money behind the bills. CNBC reports that the campaign by the Georgia NAACP, the New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matters is "seeing some results."
Over the weekend, the groups intensified their efforts. They placed a new newspaper ad that included contact information for Coca-Cola, Aflac, Home Depot, Southern Company, Delta, and UPS. Activists held protests at Coca-Cola's headquarters in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday.
Likely gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) has echoed their call, stressing that there "should be not a single business owner in America who is allowed to be silent about the theft of the right to vote from any American." Their efforts have even attracted the support of celebrities like John Legend.
On Sunday, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce (Georgia Chamber) released a new statement expressing "concern and opposition" to certain provisions in the two major voter suppression bills advancing through the legislature. All six companies targeted by the civil rights coalition are members of the Georgia Chamber.
The Georgia Chamber continues to engage in a bipartisan manner with leaders of the General Assembly on bills that would impact voting rights in our state. We have expressed concern and opposition to provisions found in both HB 531 and SB 241 that restrict or diminish voter access. As these two omnibus bills move through the legislative process, we will continue to work on ensuring both accessibility and security within our voting system.
The Georgia Chamber's statement stops short of opposing HB 531 and SB 241 in their entirety. But if you were to remove the provisions that "restrict or diminish voter access," there is not much left of either bill. The purpose of the bills is to make voting harder in Georgia, particularly in communities of color. Many of the bills' sponsors are the same people who promoted Trump's false claims of voter fraud in the state.
A statement by the Georgia Chamber is also less powerful than statements by the individual companies themselves. Popular Information contacted the six companies and asked whether the new statement from the Georgia Chamber reflected their views. Home Depot said it is "aligned with the [Georgia] Chamber," adding the company believes "all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation." Delta said that it will "continue to engage with Georgia’s elected leaders on this issue" and resent a statement that stopped short of opposing either bill. Coca-Cola said that its "response has not changed" and resent a statement that broadly supports voting rights but is silent on the specific bills in the Georgia legislature. Aflac, UPS, and Southern Company did not respond.
The civil rights groups, for their part, are not satisfied. On Sunday afternoon, they released a statement criticizing the Georgia Chamber for failing to take a clear stand:
[I]f the Georgia Chamber truly feels the that the right is to vote is sacred, why does it continue to find it difficult to directly oppose HB531 and SB241 and provide which specific provisions it opposes?
...We call on the Georgia Chamber to publicly oppose ALL anti-voting bills that pose a direct threat to access to the ballot and not hide behind weak statements.
On Monday, they will be back at the Coca-Cola's headquarters for a "die-in." They are also organizing a "corporate accountability text bank" to "encourage people to call Coca-Cola and respectfully ask them to stop funding the Georgia GOP officials that support the voter suppression bills."
Popular Information reporting has an impact because we are committed to doing whatever work is necessary to hold corporations accountable. The research that formed the basis of our original report about the corporate money behind Georgia's voter suppression bills involved reviewing thousands of state campaign finance records.
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Rewriting the history of January 6
Little more than two months ago a violent mob, motivated by lies about voter fraud from Trump and other Republicans, stormed the United States Capitol. Already, Republicans are trying to rewrite the history of that day to avoid the political fallout.
In an interview with right-wing radio host Joe Pags on Thursday, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) explained why he "wasn't concerned" about his safety on January 6.
Even though those thousands of people that were marching to the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote, I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn't concerned.
Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this could get me in trouble — had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.
The people that Johnson said he knew "love this country," included white supremacists and members of other violent extremist groups. The crowd included numerous people with confederate flags, nooses, and other racist symbols. The Proud Boys, "a male-chauvinist group with ties to white nationalism," had a significant presence.
Johnson said the rioters "truly respect law enforcement." But the group had no issues with using violence against the law enforcement officers attempting to protect the Capitol. The pro-Trump mob left at least 140 officers injured. "I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained head injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake, to name some of the injuries,” said Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police officers’ union.
One officer, Brian Sicknick, died during the melee. Two other law enforcement officers subsequently committed suicide. 38 officers who were on the scene contracted COVID.
Strangely, Johnson also claims that rioters "would never do anything to break the law." More than 315 people have been charged with crimes associated with the siege of the Capitol. Charges include violent entry, assault, and obstructing an official proceeding.
Johnson further claims he would have been concerned if members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter were involved. But previously, Johnson falsely claimed that those groups were secretly behind the violence on January 6. Congressman Mark Pocan (D-MI) said that Johnson's comments were "seriously embarrassing to our state," describing Johnson's remarks on Joe Pags' show as an "extremist and racist rant."
Corporate lobbyists circle the wagons
Johnson is attempting to downplay the seriousness of January 6 because he was complicit in spreading the lies about voter fraud that set the stage for the riots. Corporate lobbyists have different motivations.
Hundreds of corporations suspended their donations following January 6, with many specifically targeting the 147 Republicans that voted to overturn the election. Last week Popular Information reported on a memo from the national Chamber of Commerce which stated that it is not "appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification."
Suzanne Clark, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, continued to push that line in a new interview with the Washington Post. "[T]he totality of people’s actions matters. It’s not one day. It’s not one moment in time," said Clark. In this reframing, it's not the people who voted to undermine the democratic process that are being reckless. It's anyone who would judge a member of Congress based on that vote.
It illustrates the importance of PAC donations to corporate lobbyists and interest groups. Former Congressman Gregg Walden (R-OR), who previously headed the National Republican Congressional Committee and now operates a "consulting" business in partnership with a lobbying firm, was even more explicit.
Are you really going to shut down giving to somebody in a key position, who maybe has been the biggest champion for your cause on Capitol Hill because of one vote that had nothing to do with your cause? The further up that scale you go — to "I will never give to X ever again because of that one vote" — that’s a harder one to walk back out of unless you’re serious about it. And then that’s fine, but I don’t know all the side effects that might have on the relationship.
This is all said very politely, but it is essentially a threat. Walden is saying that if corporations don't start donating to the Republicans that voted to overturn the election, those Republicans may stop supporting policies supported by those corporations.
Will this kind of tactic work? Time will tell.