An added layer of complexity is getting a family to agree to change course. Creating a strategy from scratch isn’t easy, but scrapping the old one for a new, untried one is more challenging, said John Zimmerman, president of Ascent Private Capital Management, the high-net-worth arm of U.S. Bank.
“It’s more difficult and complicated than a blank slate of paper,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “You need to get alignment from scratch or from an existing foundation.”
At the time of the board of trustees’ vote to alter the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s investment strategy, its $450 million portfolio was skewed toward what could be called less-progressive investments. Just under 43 percent of the money was invested in what the foundation’s report, which I saw early, called “no-go” assets — think fossil fuels — while 44 percent was invested in assets meant to “avoid harm.” The amount aimed at “contributing to solutions,” like providing money to historically overlooked Black businesses, was literally a rounding error: 0.1 percent, or about $450,000.
Still, there was initially skepticism on the board. John Levy, a nonfamily trustee and an entrepreneur who runs a quantum computing company, Seeqc, said he was concerned that the board could not accomplish its goals through the investment products that were then available.
“I wanted to make sure that people who are as well intentioned as this group is can pay their salaries and make their grants, and that we can do that over many years,” he said.
But Ruth Cummings, who is Nathan’s granddaughter and was then the chair, pushed the committee to consider how a change in investments could increase the impact of the grant making.
Four years later, the “no-go” bucket is down to less than 5 percent; the “avoid harm” investments are still about 44 percent. But investments in another bucket, “benefits stakeholders,” has increased considerably, to 27 percent. That’s the amount put in, say, a private equity fund that supports companies that improve the quality of health care. In addition, the investments seeking to “contribute to solutions” stand at nearly 19 percent.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the bank said, “We publicly made our own strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundament right to vote.”
That statement for release on Wednesday came together over the past week and a half, after the Black executives who spoke out received an outpouring of support.
About 10 days ago, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier conferred with three other Black executives — William M. Lewis Jr., the chairman of investment banking at Lazard; Clarence Otis Jr., a former chief executive of Darden Restaurants; and Charles Phillips, a former chief executive of Infor — about what next steps they could take. Within days, they had a draft of the statement and were sharing it with other executives.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Frazier and Mr. Chenault spoke with members of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group that includes the chief executives of many of the company’s biggest companies. Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., also spoke to the group.
Then on Thursday, someone from Mr. McConnell’s staff, at the group’s invitation, briefed its members on the details of the Georgia law, several people familiar with the situation said.
The next day, members of the Business Roundtable had a regularly scheduled meeting at which the executives discussed the voting issue. On that call, Dan Schulman, the chief executive of PayPal, encouraged other executives to sign the statement.
And on Saturday, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier spoke on a Zoom meeting with more than 100 executives that was organized by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale professor who regularly gathers business leaders to discuss politics. At that meeting, Mr. Chenault read the statement and invited executives on the call to add their names to the list of signatories.
But beyond making statements, business leaders are at a loss over what they can do to influence the policy decisions made by Republican lawmakers who have embraced overhauling voting rights as a priority.
Companies like Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola lobbied behind the scenes before the Georgia law was passed last month, and the companies say their efforts had a hand in removing some of the most restrictive provisions, such as eliminating Sunday voting.
But after Delta and Coca-Cola came out in opposition to the final law, and other corporations began sounding the alarm about the voting legislation being advanced in nearly every state, Republican leaders lashed out.
“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said last week. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of America’s greatest political debates.”
Yet the business community appears to be emboldened, with more companies and business groups preparing to get involved.
“All these C.E.O.s came together days after McConnell admonished corporations to stay out of politics,” said Tom Rogers, founder of CNBC, who attended the meeting. “In convening, they were saying as a group that they were not going to be intimidated into not voicing their views on their issues.”
So far, however, there is little indication that the growing outcry from big business is changing Republicans’ priorities, with legislation in Texas and other states still moving ahead.
“Texas is the next one up,” said one chief executive who attended the meeting but asked to remain anonymous. “Whether the business commitments will have a meaningful impact there, we’ll see.”
Target will spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025, it announced on Wednesday, joining a growing list of retailers that have promised to increase their economic support of such companies in a bid to advance racial equity in the United States.
Target, which is based in Minneapolis, will add more products from companies owned by Black entrepreneurs, spend more with Black-owned marketing agencies and construction companies and introduce new resources to help Black-owned vendors navigate the process of creating products for a mass retail chain, the company said in a statement.
After last year’s protests over police brutality, a wave of American retailers, from Sephora to Macy’s, have committed to spending more money with Black-owned businesses. Many of them have joined a movement known as the 15 Percent Pledge, which supports devoting enough shelf space to Black-owned businesses to align with the African-American percentage of the national population.
Target’s announcement appears to be separate from that pledge. It said its commitment added to other racial-equity and social-justice initiatives in the past year, including efforts to improve representation among its work force.
Still, statements by companies about their social priorities deserve a healthy dose of skepticism.
Indeed, some of the same companies taking part in the stampede of statements critiquing voting laws, like Facebook, Google and AT&T, also recently donated money to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that supports many of the voting initiatives. Judd Legum, a journalist, pointed out this hypocrisy in his Popular Information newsletter, noting that Republicans have introduced bills to restrict voting in 47 states.
In the case of businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta, their more forceful, specific statements against the voting law in Georgia came only after the bill passed and 72 senior Black executives had spoken out, giving them cover.
And statements — even moving an All-Star Game — are not expensive. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, made this point in a letter to M.L.B.’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, calling its move “an easy way to signal virtues without significant financial fallout.”
Mr. Rubio also told Mr. Manfred, “I am under no illusion you intend to resign as a member from Augusta National Golf Club,” which is in Georgia. “To do so would require a personal sacrifice, as opposed to the woke corporate virtue signaling of moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta.”
The decision to move the game will impact “countless small and minority-owned businesses in and around Atlanta,” Mr. Rubio wrote.
On that last point Mr. Rubio has an ally of sorts in Stacey Abrams, the Democratic organizer in Georgia, but not because they agree on the underlying issue. Ms. Abrams said: “I am disappointed that the M.L.B. is relocating the All-Star Game; however, I commend the players, owners and league commissioner for speaking out. I urge others in positions of leadership to do so as well.”
Still, statements by companies about their social priorities deserve a healthy dose of skepticism.
Indeed, some of the same companies taking part in the stampede of statements critiquing voting laws, like Facebook, Google, and AT&T, also recently donated money to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that supports many of the voting initiatives. Judd Legum, a journalist, pointed out this hypocrisy in his Popular Information newsletter, noting that Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills to restrict voting in 47 states.
In the case of businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta, their more forceful, specific statements against the voting law in Georgia came only after the bill passed and 72 senior Black executives had spoken out, giving them cover.
And statements — even moving an All-Star Game — are not expensive. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, made this point in a letter to M.L.B.’s commissioner, Robert Manfred, calling its move “an easy way to signal virtues without significant financial fallout.”
Mr. Rubio also told Mr. Manfred, “I am under no illusion you intend to resign as a member from Augusta National Golf Club,” which is based in Georgia. “To do so would require a personal sacrifice, as opposed to the woke corporate virtue signaling of moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta.”
The decision to move the game will impact “countless small and minority owned businesses in and around Atlanta,” Mr. Rubio wrote.
On that last point Mr. Rubio has an ally of sorts in Stacey Abrams, the Democratic organizer in Georgia, but not because they agree on the underlying issue. Ms. Abrams said, “I am disappointed that the M.L.B. is relocating the All-Star game; however I commend the players, owners and League commissioner for speaking out. I urge others in positions of leadership to do so as well.”
Around 50 groups have filed amicus briefs in a coming Supreme Court case pitting charities against the state of California in a fight over donation disclosures. The Capitol riot on Jan. 6 put a spotlight on corporations’ direct and indirect political donations; justices agreed on Jan. 8 to hear the case and arguments will take place later this month.
Business interests want to create a “broad expansion of dark money rights,” according to a new brief from 15 Democratic senators, referring to untraceable donations that are often routed via nonprofit groups. The court case is an influence campaign disguised as a technical legal fight, the senators said. The case pits California against a charity, the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Foundation, over private access to tax documents. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are among the trade groups supporting the foundation’s demand for anonymity.
Anonymous donors work like covert intelligence operations, the senators wrote. The donors give millions annually to “social welfare” groups that spend it in an effort to influence politics and policy. The senators pointed to congressional appropriations rules blocking disclosure efforts by the I.R.S. and S.E.C. over the past decade as evidence that the groups have swayed lawmakers behind the scenes. The case is the latest attempt “by powerful interests to both cement and obscure their influence over the public sphere,” the senators argued.
The federal government is with California, more or less, telling the justices in a brief that the nonprofits’ constitutional claim is wrong but that the case should be sent back to the lower courts for more analysis.
Get to know social tokens
As the “suits” finally get into Bitcoin, the crypto crowd has moved on to the next big thing: BitClout, a “polarizing” open-source crypto social network that monetizes influencers via personalized tokens that can be traded by users, essentially quantifying a person’s reputation.
BitClout’s recent launch has generated outrage because the company didn’t ask permission from people featured on the platform, instead launching with “reserved” currencies linked to celebrities like the Tesla founder Elon Musk, the pop star Katy Perry and about 15,000 others. Influencers can claim their coins, which requires buying in, but in the meantime fans can still buy and trade their tokens, BitClout’s white paper explains.
Silicon Valley bigwigs have backed BitClout, including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Winklevoss Capital and the Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. A crypto wallet on the platform reportedly holds more than $150 million worth of Bitcoin, thought mostly to have been raised from these A-listers.
The company’s founder goes by “DiamondHands,” a reference to investors who steadfastly hold speculative assets, popularized during the meme-stock frenzy.His true identity is an open secret among crypto insiders; signs point to Nader al-Naji, a former Google software engineer who has not denied the claim. Brandon Curtis of the exchange Radar Relay recently sent a cease and desist letter to Mr. al-Naji, protesting the commercialization of his persona without permission, and his counsel confirmed to DealBook that his profile was removed after that letter was sent.
“BitClout is trying to create ownership through code instead of law” but may find itself “throttled,” said Michael Heller, a Columbia law professor. “People don’t much like strangers messing with their reputations,” he added, and the “right of publicity” lets them police who can profit off their clout.
On March 11, Delta Air Lines dedicated a building at its Atlanta headquarters to Andrew Young, the civil rights leader and former mayor. At the ceremony, Mr. Young spoke of the restrictive voting rights bill that Republicans were rushing through the Georgia state legislature. Then, after the speeches, Mr. Young’s daughter, Andrea, a prominent activist herself, cornered Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian.
“I told him how important it was to oppose this law,” she said.
For Mr. Bastian, it was an early warning that the issue of voting rights might soon ensnare Delta in another national dispute. Over the past five years, corporations have taken political stands like never before, often in response to the extreme policies of former President Donald J. Trump.
After Mr. Trump’s equivocating response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, Ken Frazier, the Black chief executive of Merck, resigned from a presidential advisory group, prompting dozens of other top executives to distance themselves from the president. Last year, after the killing of George Floyd, hundreds of companies expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
But for corporations, the dispute over voting rights is different. An issue that both political parties see as a priority is not easily addressed with statements of solidarity and donations. Taking a stand on voting rights legislation thrusts companies into partisan politics and pits them against Republicans who have proven willing to raise taxes and enact onerous regulations on companies that cross them politically.
Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta in protest, and more than 100 other companies spoke out in defense of voting rights.
The groundswell of support suggests that the Black executives’ clarion call will have an impact in the months ahead, as Republican lawmakers in more than 40 states advance restrictive voting laws. But already, the backlash has been swift, with Mr. Trump calling for boycotts of companies opposing such laws, and Georgia lawmakers voting for new taxes on Delta.
eliminate a tax break for Delta, costing the company $50 million.
Yet as 2021 began and Mr. Bastian focused on his company’s recovery from the pandemic, an even more partisan issue loomed.
In February, civil rights activists began reaching out to Delta, flagging what they saw as problematic provisions in early drafts of the bill, including a ban on Sunday voting, and asking the company to use its clout and lobbying muscle to sway the debate.
Delta’s government affairs team shared some of those concerns, but decided to work behind the scenes, rather than go public. It was a calculated choice intended to avoid upsetting Republican lawmakers.
In early March, Delta lobbyists pushed David Ralston, the Republican head of the Georgia house, and aides to Gov. Brian Kemp to remove some far-reaching provisions in the bill.
followed the same script, refraining from criticizing the bill.
That passive approach infuriated activists. In mid-March, protesters staged a “die in” at Coca-Cola’s museum. Bishop Reginald Jackson, an influential Atlanta pastor, took to the streets with a bullhorn and called for a boycott of Coca-Cola. Days later, activists massed at the Delta terminal at the Atlanta airport and called on Mr. Bastian to use his clout to “kill the bill.” Still, Mr. Bastian declined to say anything publicly.
Two weeks to the day after Delta dedicated its building to Mr. Young, the law was passed. Some of the most restrictive provisions had been removed, but the law limits ballot access and makes it a crime to give water to people waiting in line to vote.
The fight in Georgia appeared to be over. Days after the law was passed though, a group of powerful Black executives frustrated by the results sprang into action. Soon, Atlanta companies were drawn back into the fight, and the controversy had spread to other corporations around the country.
spoke with the media. “There is no middle ground here,” Mr. Chenault told The Times. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”
“This was unprecedented,” Mr. Lewis said. “The African-American business community has never coalesced around a nonbusiness issue and issued a call to action to the broader corporate community.”
Mr. Bastian had been unable to sleep on Tuesday night after his call with Mr. Chenault, according to two people familiar with the matter. He had also been receiving a stream of emails about the law from Black Delta employees, who make up 21 percent of the company’s work force. Eventually, Mr. Bastian came to the conclusion that it was deeply problematic, the two people said.
accused Mr. Bastian of spreading “the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.” And Republicans in the Georgia house voted to strip Delta of a tax break, just as they did three years ago. “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand,” said Mr. Ralston, the house speaker.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola “woke corporate hypocrites” and Mr. Trump joined the calls for a boycott of companies speaking out against the voting laws.
Companies that had taken a more cautious approach weren’t targeted the same way. UPS and Home Depot, big Atlanta employers, also faced early calls to oppose the Georgia law, but instead made unspecific commitments to voting rights.
declared their opposition to proposed voting legislation in that state. And on Friday, more than 170 companies signed a statement calling on elected officials around the country to refrain from enacting legislation that makes it harder for people to vote.
It was messy, but to many activists, it was progress. “Companies don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Stacey Abrams, who has worked for years to get out the Black vote in Georgia. “It’s going to take a national response by corporations to stop what happened in Georgia from happening in other states.”
Companies were quick to speak out during the racial justice protests last year, putting out statements of solidarity and posting black squares on Instagram. But after Georgia Republicans passed broad voting restrictions, Atlanta’s corporate giants have been much more muted — and activists are now talking boycotts, The Times’s David Gelles writes.
Among the targets:
Delta, which has publicly defended gay rights and said it stood with Black people after the police killings of George Floyd and others. But on the voting legislation, the airline has only issued a statement about a need for broader voter participation. It told employees that it had “engaged extensively” with lawmakers in creating the legislation, and that the measure had “improved considerably” during the process, though it noted that “concerns remain.”
Coca-Cola, which pledged last summer to “invest our resources to advance social justice causes.” When it came to the recent bill, Coke said that it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which also spoke mainly of increasing voter participation and avoided sharp criticism. (Late yesterday, Coke said it was “disappointed” in the new law, but added, “We don’t see this as the final chapter.”)
“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense, told David. Companies spoke out forcefully against bills on gender and bathroom access, even threatening to pull out of states like Indiana and, yes, Georgia.
What changed? Companies may be shying away from political fights, after spending four years speaking out against the Trump administration. And the Georgia laws were spearheaded by mainstream Republicans, making executives less eager to cross lawmakers they may need on other issues.
Ms. Ifill raised a provocative third potential reason. “Why is it that corporations that could speak so powerfully and unequivocally in opposition to discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants are not speaking as clearly about the disenfranchisement of Black people?” she said. “This is a race issue.”
For activists, the next step is calling for boycotts on companies with big Georgia presences, including Coke, Delta, Home Depot and UPS. If “Coca-Cola wants Black and brown people to drink their product, then they must speak up when our rights, our lives and our very democracy as we know it is under attack,” Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Suez Canal is clear. Now what? The 224,000-ton Ever Given was freed from the vital shipping passage days after being stuck, hindering global trade. After the celebrations will come two big questions: What happened, and how can the disruptions be sorted out?
prevented 90 percent of Covid-19 infections by two weeks after the second shot. But President Biden and the head of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urged Americans to maintain virus safety measures in the face of “impending doom” from a potential fourth wave of cases.
The White House pushes for tax increases to pay for its infrastructure and jobs plan. As it rolls out its multitrillion-dollar spending initiative, the Biden administration is likely to call for about $3 trillion in new taxes, The Washington Post reports.
President Tayyip Reccip Erdogan of Turkey fired another top central bank official. The removal of Murat Cetinkaya, a deputy governor, was announced with no explanation. It came 10 days after Mr. Erdogan fired the bank’s chief, setting off a sell-off in Turkey’s currency.
The Supreme Court wonders what to do in an investor fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. Justices noted that both sides agree that general statements about professional integrity could be the basis for a lawsuit, and that their positions had moved closer over the course of litigation.
huge stock sales tied to Archegos Capital Management, one thing has become clear: Cooperation is not the finance industry’s strong suit.
Archegos’ main lenders met on Thursday to discuss an orderly wind-down of the firm’s trades, according to The Wall Street Journal. The idea was to limit the damage from several banks dumping huge blocks of stock in ViacomCBS and other companies, potentially tanking prices and hurting their own balance sheets.
You can guess what happened next. Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley sold small amounts of stock after that meeting. But Goldman Sachs opened the floodgates the next day, quickly followed by Morgan Stanley. By market close, the two had sold nearly $20 billion worth of Archegos assets.
That left Goldman and Morgan Stanley with relatively little damage to their businesses, while banks that didn’t move as quickly — notably Credit Suisse and Nomura — warned investors that they could suffer huge hits. As one banker involved told the FT, “The reality is in a fire sale, if you’re not first out the door you’re going to get burned.”
What a SPAC believer thinks of SPAC mania
Kevin Hartz, the founder of Eventbrite, believes in the value of SPACs: In February, his first SPAC (named “One”) acquired the industrial 3-D printing company Markforged in a $2.1 billion deal. His second blank-check fund — named “Two,” of course — raised $200 million yesterday. Still, he told DealBook that he believes some SPACs pose risks to retail investors.
Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.
On why S.E.C. scrutiny is needed:
Because people are getting hurt. “For some millennial family to invest in a SPAC, or invest in a SPAC merger, and then see that crater is why we need the S.E.C. to be more involved here,” he said.
What could happen next:
Mr. Hartz pointed to the dot-com bubble as a warning: “We still kind of point to 1999, 2000 as an indicator of what SPACs will need to go through, unfortunately, and that is kind of extreme euphoria, followed by the reality of most losing money for investors.”
corporations and governments has grown in recent years. Yet when it comes to the Supreme Court, some are resisting efforts to allow more sunlight into the institution, as demonstrated in the debate over a bipartisan bill that aims to televise the court’s proceedings.
No Supreme Court hearing has ever been filmed, though Congress has been trying to get cameras in federal courts since 1937. Most state courts allow cameras, and some federal circuit courts permit video with limits. But Chief Justice John Roberts and the five other veterans on the bench have said they fear that the presence of cameras would transform oral arguments into showy performances. (The court’s three most recent appointees have said they would consider it.)
Seeing arguments in “monumental cases” shouldn’t be a privilege of the few, said Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who is sponsoring the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act. Adding cameras “opens our democracy and gives millions of Americans a window into the room where decisions are made that have lasting effects for generations,” he told DealBook.
Then again, the court has adapted during the pandemic, allowing live audio feeds of arguments. Justices may clamp down on the public’s access to the court when the pandemic lifts, but the tech precedent may make that more difficult.
replace President Andrew Jackson on the bill. “The primary reason currency is redesigned is for security against counterfeiting,” Lydia Washington, a representative for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, told DealBook. “The redesign timeline is driven by security feature development.”
The Obama administration said it would unveil a design “concept” by 2020, to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Extensive redesign work was reportedly done, but in 2019 President Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the project would be delayed until at least 2026. (Insiders said they had always doubted that the 2020 deadline could be met).
It turns out that the complex design and testing process for currency can’t be hurried. “No final images have been selected,” Ms. Washington said. (The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment).
THE SPEED READ
Recent trades in the private markets reportedly valued ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, at more than $250 billion. (Bloomberg)
The food service Deliveroo lowered the high end of valuation expectations for its forthcoming I.P.O., to £7.85 billion ($10.8 billion). (Reuters)
Politics and policy
Best of the rest
Goldman Sachs said its interns would work out of its offices this summer. (Bloomberg)
If the minimum wage had grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses since 1985, workers would be paid $44 an hour today. (Insider)
Take a peek at the potential offices of the future: hot desks, Zoom rooms and more. (NYT)
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As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets last summer, many of the country’s largest corporations expressed solidarity and pledged support for racial justice. But now, with lawmakers around the country advancing restrictive voting rights bills that would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, corporate America has gone quiet.
Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights. The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts.
“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “This shows that they lack a real commitment to racial equity. They are complicit in their silence.”
On Thursday, hours after the Georgia voting restrictions were signed into law, Ms. Brown joined protesters at the Atlanta airport calling for a boycott of Delta, Georgia’s largest employer. In front of the Delta terminal, they lobbied for employees to pressure their employer and urged the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, to use his clout to sway the debate.
said the company would “invest our resources to advance social justice causes” and “use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations.”
But last week, rather than take a position on the then-pending legislation, Coca-Cola said it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which were diplomatically calling on legislators to maximize voter participation while avoiding any pointed criticisms.
said. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything. And our position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support.”
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Black pastor who was elected in January, called out companies for their muted responses in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
“I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Senator Warnock said. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”
Corporate America’s guarded approach to the partisan issue of voting rights stands in stark contrast to its engagement with other social and political issues in recent years. When legislatures advanced “bathroom bills” that would have discriminated against people who are transgender, many big companies threatened to pull out of states like Indiana, Georgia and Texas.
And over the past four years, many big companies spoke out against President Donald J. Trump on issues including climate change, immigration and white supremacy.
“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “It seems to me perfectly legitimate for Black voters in Georgia to expect them to speak just as powerfully and directly about what is an unwarranted attack on the ability of Black voters to participate in the political process.”
on Twitter. Criticizing an early version of the Georgia bill, it added: “Georgia H.B. 531 would limit trustworthy, safe & equal access to voting by restricting early voting & eliminating provisional ballots. That’s why Salesforce opposes H.B. 531 as it stands.”
Patagonia, which has worked to increase voter participation, condemned the new bills and called on other companies to get more involved.
“Our democracy is under attack by a new wave of Jim Crow bills that seek to restrict the right to vote,” Ryan Gellert, the chief executive of Patagonia, said in a statement. “It is urgent that businesses across the country take a stand — and use their brands as a force for good in support of our democracy.”
Those were the exceptions. For the most part, big companies declined to comment on the Georgia legislation as it came together. Even chief executives who have made names for themselves by championing diversity chose not to get involved. Tim Ryan, the senior partner at PwC and a founder of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, declined to comment for this article.
“The voice of individual leaders is oddly muted,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management who regularly gathers chief executives to talk about controversial issues. “For the most part, they are not yet taking the same courageous stands they have taken on election ballot counting and the election results this fall, let alone on immigration, gun safety and the infamous bathroom bills.”
After four years of responding to the often extreme policies of the Trump administration, many companies are seeking to stay out of political fights.
And the voting bills are being driven by mainstream Republican lawmakers, rather than lesser-known right-wing figures. Companies that take a stand might have a harder time currying favor with those lawmakers on other issues down the line.
“This is not the fringe members trying to push bathroom bills,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the chief executive of Fair Fight, a voter-rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. “This is a priority for the party at the national level. For companies to speak out and work against these bills is very different.”
Ms. Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said there was another factor at play as well: race. “Why is it that corporations that could speak so powerfully and unequivocally in opposition to discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants are not speaking as clearly about the disenfranchisement of Black people?” she said. “It’s the same thing. This is a race issue.”
Companies have effectively squashed bills at the state level before. In 2016, when lawmakers were advancing the bathroom bills, major corporations said they would move jobs out of states that adopted such measures. Responding to one such bill in Georgia in 2016, the Walt Disney Company said, “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”
The tactic was effective. Many of those bills were tabled as lawmakers responded to the threats of lost business.
This time around, however, the entertainment industry has taken a more guarded approach.
When asked for comment, Disney, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment and ViacomCBS either said they had no public comment or did not respond to queries. The Motion Picture Association, Hollywood’s lobbying organization, declined to comment, as did Amazon Studios, which six months ago released “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” a documentary about efforts by Ms. Abrams and other activists to tear down voting barriers in Georgia and elsewhere.
The fight in Georgia is likely a preview of things to come. Lawmakers in dozens of states have proposed similar voting bills, and activists are planning to ramp up the pressure on corporate America as the battle over voting rights goes national.
Companies, meanwhile, are trying to maintain a delicate balancing act. Though the Georgia law passed Thursday was less stringent than initially proposed, it introduced more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes and expanded the state legislature’s power over elections.
After its passage, Delta and Coca-Cola appeared to take some credit for helping soften the bill’s restrictions. Delta said it had “engaged extensively with state elected officials” in recent weeks and that “the legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process.”
Coca-Cola issued a similar statement, saying it had “sought improvements” to the law and that it would “continue to identify opportunities for engagement and strive for improvements aimed at promoting and protecting the right to vote in our home state and elsewhere.”
Those words were cold comfort to activists who had worked against the efforts to curb voter rights.
“They have made soft statements rather than stepping out,” Ms. Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Brooks Barnes and Nicole Craine contributed reporting.