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If Corporations Are ‘People,’ They Just Might Have An Opinion

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.

Major Law Firms Vow Action Against Voter Suppression

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Not only are American corporations readily ignoring Sen. Mitch McConnell's threats to shut their traps about voter suppression laws, now big law firms are getting active in the fight too.

Some 60 major law firms are uniting around an effort "to challenge voter suppression legislation and to support national legislation to protect voting rights and increase voter participation," Brad Karp, chairman of the heavyweight law firm Paul Weiss, told The New York Times.

Though the group has not been formally announced, Karp promised it would "emphatically denounce legislative efforts to make voting harder, not easier, for all eligible voters, by imposing unnecessary obstacles and barriers on the right to vote."

The firms are teaming up with the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit organization that has been tracking Republican legislation across the country, to strategize about which laws to file legal challenges against.

"We plan to challenge any election law that would impose unnecessary barriers on the right to vote and that would disenfranchise underrepresented groups in our country," Karp said. As one might expect, that includes the Georgia law, which has invited a flurry of fallout already for both the state and the Republican lawmakers who passed it.

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center, told the Times the coalition of law firms put lawmakers "on notice" that unconstitutional and legally flawed laws will almost certainly result in legal pushback.

"This is beyond the pale," Waldman said of the GOP suppression laws. "You're hearing that from the business community and you're hearing it from the legal community."

Make no mistake, this is so far from over. On the heels of Major League Baseball pulling its All-Star Game from Georgia to protest the law, creators of the forthcoming Hollywood movie "Emancipation" about a runaway slave announced Monday that they would move production out of the Peach State.

"At this moment in time, the Nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice," Antoine Fuqua, the movie's director, and actor Will Smith said in a joint statement. "We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access."

But perhaps the biggest development emerging from the rash of GOP voter suppression laws sweeping the nation is the deepening rift between Republicans and the wealthy sector of voters and donors who have traditionally gravitated toward the GOP for decades.

We could be witnessing nothing short of a political realignment that stands to upend American politics as we have known it for more than a generation.

McConnell’s Political Threat To Corporations Is Backfiring

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Apparently Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's threat to corporations to "stay out of politics" didn't have the result he intended. Big business seems to be getting more serious about pushing back as Republicans continue to push voter suppression measures in states across the country. More than 100 top corporate executives joined a Zoom call Saturday to discuss how to apply pressure against such legislation, The Washington Post reports.

Companies represented included Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target, LinkedIn, Levi Strauss, and Boston Consulting Group, as well as Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the Post reports, and the discussion included "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."

The call, which lasted over an hour, "shows they are not intimidated by the flak. They are not going to be cowed," according to one of its organizers, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor. "They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous."

That "flawed premise" is in fact Donald Trump's big lie, which even Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has made clear, saying on CNN, "This is really the fallout from the 10 weeks of misinformation that flew in from former President Donald Trump."

Before Georgia passed the instantly notorious voter suppression law that started the blowback from corporations, some top Georgia businesses worked behind the scenes to try to blunt the bill's worst provisions. But once the law passed, they saw that that wasn't going to cut it, prompting the more public corporate opposition to attacks on voting rights.

Republicans in Georgia responded to that corporate opposition with threats of retaliation, including a failed (for now) attempt to strip Delta Air Lines of a major tax break. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claimed: "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy." And, of course, there was that "warning" from McConnell, though he quickly tried to walk it back a little when he saw how badly it played.

All this—the voter suppression measures that prompt blowback, the sudden turn against their usual corporate allies—comes because, first, Donald Trump lost and couldn't admit it and made it an article of faith for his base that elections are being stolen, and second, because Republicans know that their electoral future depends on making it harder to vote, especially for Black and brown people, low-income people, and young people.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to protect the right to vote and expand access to voting, from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms trying to mitigate the impact of the new Georgia anti-voting law to House Democrats passing historic voting reforms—which, of course, Senate Republicans are blocking. But this can't be framed as a partisan fight. It's about whether the United States really values its democracy. Whether voting is a right that all eligible people can equally access, or a privilege easily extended to some while others are forced to overcome barrier after barrier to use it. Whether our voting laws are made in the name of justice or in the name of Trump's big lie. If you're on the wrong side of that, it's not a routine partisan issue. It's a stain on your name and on your soul.

Republicans Attack ‘Woke’ Companies At Their Peril

Mitch McConnell has been presented with the spectacle of giant American corporations taking sides on a political issue, and his eyes were seared by the sight. The Senate Republican leader could not have imagined Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, much less Major League Baseball, coming out against a piece of legislation. Processing the trauma may require years of therapy.

"I'm talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state, because you don't like a particular law that passed — I just think it's stupid," he said Tuesday. "So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics."

This is not quite what you would expect from a politician who last year got more than $250,000 in campaign contributions from chief executives of major companies. Nor is it quite in line with his longstanding view that corporations enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals. But McConnell hastened to add that he was not referring to business people making political donations, a practice he assured them is "fine."

The apparent problem for him is not that corporations are getting involved in politics; it's that they are getting involved in a way that conflicts with Republican needs. One of those needs is making it harder for Democrats to win elections in the previously red state of Georgia. McConnell objects to the corporate criticism of a new voting law that is designed to tilt the scales in favor of his party.

Major League Baseball decided to move this year's All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver to register its disapproval. Delta and Coca-Cola issued statements denouncing the election measure. But these were hardly the first time that professional sports or other businesses have intruded into the political realm.

Team owners use their leverage to extract public funds for stadiums and other arenas, notes Chris Lamb, author of the book Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball. They host politicians in their luxury suites. They make campaign contributions. Says Lamb, "I wish owners would stick to sports."

They also lend support to various causes that are inseparable from politics. All those military flyovers at ballgames are an implicit endorsement of our militaristic foreign policy. After 9/11, baseball teams started playing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, a gesture of support for President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

McConnell doesn't long for the era when big companies had no political agendas, because there was no such era. He longs for the time when they could pursue their political agendas without enduring nonstop scrutiny from their customers or employees.

Today, Americans often take account of the political activities of companies when making their purchasing decisions. Some companies see speaking up for social justice and racial equity as a matter of conscience — and a way of appealing to consumers who agree. They also know that silence merely invites criticism from either side.

Michael Jordan famously justified his avoidance of political controversy by saying, "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Nike took the risk of alienating customers with an ad campaign featuring San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who gained notoriety by kneeling during the national anthem. The Nike shoe decorated with his image sold out the first day.

Many athletes, despite being told things like "shut up and dribble," insist on using their public visibility to advance causes dear to them, regardless of who objects. Players for the WNBA Atlanta Dream wore T-shirts endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock in his race against Kelly Loeffler, who happened to be one of the team's owners.

Consumer boycotts over political activity have become an unavoidable feature of the marketplace. Critics who denounce these efforts as ugly manifestations of "cancel culture" use the same tactic when it suits them. Former President Donald Trump, with his usual flair for falsehood, urged: "Boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections. Are you listening Coke, Delta, and all!"

Good luck with that. Fear of the MAGA crowd didn't stop The Walt Disney Company, a shining symbol of wholesome American fun, from announcing last year that it would give $5 million to organizations fighting for social justice.

Republicans often accuse the left of hating America. But it's not liberals who find themselves at odds with baseball, Coke and Mickey Mouse.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com