Hundreds of Companies Unite to Oppose Voting Limits, but Others Abstain

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.

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Corporate Leaders Discuss How to Address Georgia’s Voting Laws

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Delta and Coca-Cola Reverse Course on Georgia Voting Law, Stating ‘Crystal Clear’ Opposition

In the memo, Mr. Bastian said it was only after the law was passed that he truly understood the degree to which it would impose restrictions on Black voters.

“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Mr. Bastian went further, saying the new law was based on false pretenses.

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” he said. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Several other companies also weighed in on the issue on Wednesday.

Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, issued a statement on LinkedIn saying the company was concerned about the wave of new restrictive voting laws. “BlackRock is concerned about efforts that could limit access to the ballot for anyone,” Mr. Fink said. “Voting should be easy and accessible for ALL eligible voters.”

Mark Mason, the chief financial officer of Citi, in a post on LinkedIn, called out the Georgia law as discriminatory.

“I am appalled by the recent voter suppression laws passed in the state of Georgia,” said Mr. Mason, who is Black. “I see it as a disgrace that our country’s efforts to keep Black Americans from engaging fully in our Constitutional right to vote continue to this day.”

Chuck Robbins, who is the chief executive of Cisco and grew up in Georgia, said on Twitter that “voting is a fundamental right in our democracy” and that “governments should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder.”

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Black Executives Call on Corporations to Fight Restrictive Voting Laws

Dozens of the most prominent Black business leaders in America are banding together to call on companies to fight a wave of voting-rights bills being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states. The campaign appears to be the first time that so many powerful Black executives have organized to directly call out their peers for failing to stand up for racial justice.

The effort, led by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, is a response to the swift passage of a Georgia law that they contend makes it harder for Black people to vote. As the debate about that bill raged in recent weeks, most major corporations — including those with headquarters in Atlanta — did not take a position on the legislation.

“There is no middle ground here,” Mr. Chenault said. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”

The executives did not criticize specific companies, but instead called on all of corporate America to publicly and directly oppose new laws that would restrict the rights of Black voters, and to use their clout, money and lobbyists to sway the debate with lawmakers.

almost no major companies spoke out against the legislation, which introduced stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes and expanded the legislature’s power over elections.

Big corporations based in Atlanta, including Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, offered general statements of support for voting rights, but none took a specific stance on the bills. The same was true for most of the executives who signed the new letter, including Mr. Frazier and Mr. Chenault.

Mr. Frazier said he had paid only peripheral attention to the matter before the Georgia law was passed on Thursday. “When the law passed, I started paying attention,” he said.

resignation led other chief executives to distance themselves from Mr. Trump, and the advisory groups disbanded.

“As African-American business executives, we don’t have the luxury of being bystanders to injustice,” Mr. Frazier said. “We don’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines when these kinds of injustices are happening all around us.”

a pledge that states their “clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society.” Dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Facebook, Nike and Pfizer, signed on.

To Mr. Chenault, the contrast between the business community’s response to that issue and to voting restrictions that disproportionately harm Black voters was telling.

“You had 60 major companies — Amazon, Google, American Airlines — that signed on to the statement that states a very clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society,” he said. “So, you know, it is bizarre that we don’t have companies standing up to this.”

“This is not new,” Mr. Chenault added. “When it comes to race, there’s differential treatment. That’s the reality.”

Activists are now calling for boycotts of Delta and Coca-Cola for their tepid engagement before the Georgia law was passed. And there are signs that other companies and sports leagues are becoming more engaged with the issue.

The head of the Major League Baseball Players Association said he “would look forward” to a discussion about moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta, where it is planned for July. And Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, released a statement on Tuesday affirming his company’s commitment to voting rights.

“Voting is fundamental to the health and future of our democracy,” he said. “We regularly encourage our employees to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and we stand against efforts that may prevent them from being able to do so.”

That language echoed statements made by many big companies before the Georgia law was passed. The executives who signed the letter are likely to seek more.

“People ask, ‘What can I do?’” Mr. Chenault said. “I’ll tell you what you can do. You can publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation and all measures designed to limit Americans’ ability to vote.”

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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.

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