Reprinted with permission from Roll Call
That Pepsi bottle on the counter looks so out of place. My husband has always been a Diet Coke man. It's a matter of principle, he tells me, even as he admits he prefers "The Real Thing." Coca-Cola's statement disapproving of Georgia's new voting restrictions was too little, too late, and that's that, he says. All of that puts the Atlanta-based soft drink giant in a bind, since even its belated critical stand was too much for backers of the bill, who are also banishing Coke from their own fridges, they say.
What's a company to do?
I can't feel too sorry for Coca-Cola, Delta, and the rest, though, since they've been playing the political game forever while pretending to be above it all. And I have to stifle a laugh at the Republican politicians who are admonishing corporations and sports leagues now that the bills the GOP instigated aren't getting a pass. These are the same pols who eagerly accepted campaign donations and good PR in days past.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is astute enough to recognize why his furrowed brow and outraged words are landing with a thud. It's why his story is constantly changing. He told companies to stay out of politics, was called on it, then said he meant to only offer advice that business leaders read the fine print before opening their mouths and closing their pocketbooks.
Carefully studying the legislation would be more than I'd wager Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp did, judging by the speed with which he signed the 98-page, GOP-led monster, after it raced through the state legislature, though I'm sure he was briefed on its intent. However, the arrest of duly elected Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon after she knocked on Kemp's door to witness the signing seemed to happen in excruciating slow motion.
Kemp's expressions of concern for Black-owned businesses hurt by Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Georgia, after he prevented Cannon from witnessing the signing of a bill that would affect so many of her constituents, earns him a spot right alongside McConnell in the hypocrites' hall of fame.
Many Georgia Democratic politicians and activists, such as Stacey Abrams, Kemp's past and maybe future opponent, have reminded those who would boycott the state about the workers who would pay a price. But the blame for the punitive actions clearly lies at the feet of the lawmakers who rushed to fix an election system that was not broken — unless broken is defined as losing presidential and senatorial contests.
Devil's In The Details
Apparently, more and more companies are taking Kemp's advice to become informed about not only Georgia's bill but also voting legislation that Republican-controlled legislatures are rushing to pass across the country. The New York Times provided a handy deep dive into the Georgia law. Here are some lowlights: Voters will have less time to request absentee ballots; drop boxes still exist, but barely; if election problems arise, it will be more difficult to extend voting hours; and so much more.
What many find most disturbing in that and other bills are new rules that would give legislatures the right to overrule the will of voters. For instance, in Georgia, the GOP-led legislature is now empowered to suspend county election officials. Isn't that what Donald Trump dictated in his threatening calls to state officials?
How widespread is the threat to democracy? The Brennan Center for Justice estimated that, as of late March, legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states.
I, for one, would be happy to never hear the word "cancel" again, now that it's used as a mantra from the folks who want to cancel the will of the voters who favored Joe Biden. Did they honestly expect American citizens (many of whom work for or patronize those now-vocal corporations) to take it? After all the corporate statements last summer supporting equity and racial justice after George Floyd's deadly interaction with law enforcement, it was inevitable that demands to back up those words with action would follow.
Good For Business?
Recently, more than 100 chief executives and corporate leaders met virtually to discuss taking action to oppose the voting bills, including withholding investments from states that pass such measures and donations from politicians who support them. Get McConnell the smelling salts!
That's a little surprising since the usual corporate comfort zone is taking the tax breaks and hiring lots of lobbyists. So a certain amount of cynicism is allowed. Paying attention now must be good for business, or CEOs wouldn't be considering it. You also have to credit the 72 African American executives who signed a letter criticizing business as usual. Two of them — Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck — reportedly helped lead the meeting.
In Michigan, leaders of Ford and General Motors joined other businesses based there to voice their opposition to GOP-sponsored election bills in that state and around the country. And more than a dozen top law firms have committed to forming what amounts to legal "SWAT teams" to fight the laws.
Remember when McConnell celebrated the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that companies could finance election spending? "An important step" in restoring their First Amendment rights, he said. Mitt Romney famously said: "Corporations are people."
Well, people are going to have an opinion and perhaps, when prodded, a conscience. From now on, Georgia and states with laws on deck (a baseball reference in memory of a missed All-Star opportunity) have to decide if corporations are naughty children to be scolded and condescended to, or not.
For those without Fortune 500 bona fides, and only their vote as voice, why wouldn't that vote be protected as precious? Which brings me back to my husband, who reminds me, only half-jokingly, that not only is he doing his part, he's also in good company. Will Smith has decided that his next project is canceling plans to film in Georgia because of the state's freshly minted voting restrictions.
Bad boys, indeed.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.