View Source

Companies Can’t Stay on the Political Sidelines


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.


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.

View Source

Inside Corporate America’s Frantic Response to the Georgia Voting Law

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.”

View Source

Coca-Cola C.E.O.: Voting Rights Advocate?

We’re a Georgia-based company. That’s going to be certainly our starting point. I don’t see us having the wherewithal to understand every nuance in every other state. I think there will be energy directed at the federal level. If you go back historically, federal oversight of changing the voting processes in the states has been an important process to make sure that things move forward, not backward.

Do you see a double standard between the way in which companies are engaging with the issue of voting rights and how they’ve engaged with other issues, be it L.G.B.T. bills or climate change, or immigration, in the past?

It’s not that the corporate community was not involved. We were perhaps not as public as some people wish we had been, or perhaps would have made more difference.

You’ve got this tension of getting companies involved — the tension of dragging, or having companies pulled, into politics. When do I get involved? You can’t possibly be involved in every issue. So getting clear on what are the most important things to your company is what we go back to.

We’re very clear on the importance of diversity and inclusion to the Coca-Cola Company, which aspires to be a brand for everyone, and particularly in the South, given its history. We stand for diversity and inclusion in Georgia above all else, and that’s why we came to the table on this issue. We tried to affect change. It didn’t work. But we have not given up by any stretch of the imagination.

You had lots of senior roles before becoming C.E.O. What is the biggest difference as C.E.O.?

When you become C.E.O. you think you’ve got this organizational pyramid and you’ve come at the apex, and now everyone works for you. But then you find out there’s another pyramid, but it’s upside down, and you’re the one person at the bottom.

There’s a huge number of stakeholders who want to tell you what to do, and many of them don’t work in the business. So you deal with the board, the media, the investors, the analysts, the NGOs, the government. You have this whole galaxy of people you need to deal with in a way that was never true for any of the other jobs. If you haven’t gotten really clear on what are the few things that I want to tell people about and prioritize things this, it can be quite destabilizing.

View Source