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

Corporations, Vocal About Racial Justice, Go Quiet on Voting Rights

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.

View Source

Stacey Abrams calls Republican efforts to restrict voting in Georgia ‘Jim Crow in a suit’

Stacey Abrams has described Republican efforts to restrict voting rights in Georgia as “racist” and “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie”.

Abrams, who helped Democrats win two key US Senate runoff elections in her home state in January that gave the party a narrow control of the chamber, is a leading critic of voter suppression efforts by Republicans.

The bill in Georgia, SB241, includes various measures including ending the right to vote by mail without having to provide an excuse, and other new identification requirements. Republicans have held up what they say is a risk of voter fraud as justification for the legislation despite the lack of evidence of wrongdoing.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Abrams said the moves by lawmakers in Georgia would significantly curtail voting access after a record number of voters propelled Democratic victories in the 2020 race.

Well, first of all, I do absolutely agree that it’s racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie. We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it’s not that there was the question of security.

“In fact, the secretary of state and the governor went to great pains to assure America that Georgia’s elections were secure. And so the only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted, and it changed the outcome of elections in a direction that Republicans do not like.

“And so, instead of celebrating better access and more participation, their response is to try to eliminate access to voting for primarily communities of color. And there’s a direct correlation between the usage of drop boxes, the usage of in-person early voting, especially on Sundays, and the use of vote by mail and a direct increase in the number of people of color voting.”

Filibuster reform

Abrams, a former senior state legislator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, also called on Sunday for the US Senate to exempt election reform legislation passed by the House of Representatives over Republican opposition from a procedural hurdle called the filibuster.

“Protection of democracy is so fundamental that it should be exempt from the filibuster rules,” Abrams told CNN.

The Democratic-led House on 3 March passed a bill intended to reform voting procedures, increase voter participation and require states to assign independent commissions the task of redrawing congressional districts to guard against partisan manipulation.

There is a debate among Democrats, who narrowly control the Senate thanks to those two Georgia victories, on whether to modify or even eliminate the filibuster, a longstanding fixture that means most legislation cannot advance without 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate rather than a simple majority.

The filibuster already has been scaled back and does not apply to judicial or cabinet appointments and some budgetary measures, Abrams noted, so it should be suspended for the voting rights legislation. Abrams, a former minority leader in the Georgia house of representatives, has emerged as a leading Democratic voice on voting rights.

Joe Biden has said he would sign the election legislation into law if it is passed by Congress, but also has indicated opposition to completely eliminating the filibuster.

The House-passed bill faces long odds in the Senate under current rules, where all 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them would need to be joined by 10 of the 50 Republican senators to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats have argued that the legislation is necessary to lower barriers to voting and to make the US political system more democratic and responsive to the needs of voters.

Republicans have said it would take powers away from the states, and have promised to fight it if it becomes law.

View Source