ATLANTA (AP) – Liberal activists are stepping up calls for corporate America to denounce Republican efforts to tighten state, and businesses accustomed to cozy political relationships now find themselves in the middle of a growing partisan fight over voting rights.
Pressure is mounting on leading companies in Texas, Arizona, and other states, particularly after Major League Baseball moved. The move came a week after Georgia Republicans enacted an overhaul of the state’s election law that critics argue attempts to suppress Democratic votes.
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, 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 are showing a new willingness to enter the fray on an issue not directly related to their bottom line, even if it means 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 tobecause when they do show up and speak, people listen.”
Civil rights groups have sued to block the new Georgia law, passed after Democrats flipped the once-reliablyfalsely claimed was rife with fraud. Some for Delta, Coca-Cola, and others consumer boycotts. They dismiss business leaders’ assertions that they helped water down the bill to ease earlier, more restrictive proposals; those leaders, they argue, should have tried to block the plan altogether.
In Texas, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and League of UnitedCitizens, 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 says.
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, 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,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.
Arizona, which Biden flipped from Trump in November, hasn’t yet seen high-profile corporate players engage. But 30-plus groupsto 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 to make it easier for Americans to vote, regardless of state laws. Democrats would enact automatic voter registration nationally and standardize access to early and mail voting among the changes.
Democrats also want to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act 1965 that require theand locales with a history of discrimination. The struck down those provisions, which applied to Georgia and Arizona, among other conditions, in 2013.
Corporate giants were mostly quiet when Trumphe lost because of fraud. Business leaders largely maintained that caution as Republican state lawmakers used Trump’s lie to justify a flood of new bills to make voting more cumbersome.
The reluctance contrast with how chambers of commerce reacted six years ago when Republican-run states pushed “religious freedom” measures. Indiana, under then-Gov. Mike Pence, the future, saw immediate corporate backlash. After North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” limiting LGBTQ rights in 2016, PayPal scuttled expansion plans there, and the NBA moved its from Charlotte. An AP analysis 2017 found the reaction would eventually cost at least $3.76 billion in lost business.
Then,, Georgia’s corporate lobbying groups took no such chances, speaking out forcefully against Georgia conservatives’ version of a “religious freedom” bill. 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 in the business coalition that publicly opposed the religious freedom bill, argued that the measure “was discriminatory” against LGBTQ citizens. In contrast, the nearly 100-pageis less clear-cut and 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.”
Still, Delta and Coca-Cola’s response to the Georgia voting fight is afor other businesses.
Ed Bastian, the airline’s chief executive, initially released a statement noting the business lobby’s role in altering the bill as it moved through the. Officials at the Atlanta Metro Chamber, where Bastian currently serves as president, detailed how corporate lobbyists spent weeks at the Capitol on mitigating provisions.
Some Georgia Republicans wanted to roll back the state’s no-excuse absentee voting law, end automatic voter registration and ban Sunday early voting used heavily by Black churches. They also required photocopies of state IDs to receive and submit absentee ballots, excluding “drop boxes” as ballot collection receptacles.
The final law preserved no-excuse absentee voting and automatic registration. The new ID requirement for absentee ballots allows voters to write their state ID number rather than produce a photocopy, and the legislature includedIDs. The law also codifies early in-person voting on weekends, although it allows counties to choose whether to vote for up to two Sundays. And it made drop boxes of mail ballots a permanent fixture in Georgia but limited the number.
According to Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, business leaders’ philosophy was “basically, Republicans are going to pass something, so they might as well try to keep from being awful.”
But by Wednesday, the same day 72 Black business executives published a letter in The Newurging corporate leaders to speak out, Bastian was more direct. He sent a companywide memo declaring the law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie” – though he didn’t mention Trump.
Big business’s mistake, Jordan said, was “thinking there wasup like this.”
Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas; Acacia Coronado and Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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