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Corporate America Could Put Real Pressure On Politicians Trying To Suppress The Vote

On April 14, the first page of the Business Section of the New York Times announced that hundreds of executives, corporations, non-profits, educational institutions and prominent law firms had come together to, in the Times’ words “unite to oppose voting limits.”

[See David Gelles and Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Hundreds of Companies Unite to Oppose Voting Limits, but Others Abstain: Amazon, Google, G.M. and Starbucks were among those joining the biggest show of solidarity by businesses over legislation in numerous states.”]

Inside the first section of the Times, spread over two full pages, was an AD which stated,

“For American democracy to work for any of us we must ensure the right to vote for all of us. We all feel the responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.” [This AD was also placed in the Washington Post.]

Now, the AD didn’t explicitly call out the new voter suppression bill passed in Georgia. Neither did it attack the bills pending in over 40 states. [According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills restrictive provisions 47 states.” See “State Voting Bills Tracker 2021: State lawmakers continue to introduce voting and elections bills at a furious pace”.] However, from context we know what the signatories were talking about. Republican leader Mitch McConnell certainly knew it --- responding testily that corporate America should “stay out of politics.” (He quickly walked that back ---- wanting corporate America to keep contributing money to his and other Republicans’ campaigns.)

[See, for example Allen Smith and Frank Thorp V, “McConnell warns corporate America to ‘stay out of politics’ --- but says donations are okay.”]  Reading through the article one finds McConnell twisting himself into knots. He, of course is a strong supporter of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which basically blew the lid off of campaign spending rules for corporations. In his various public statements he made certain to say he was not opposing political contributions. Here he is: "I'm not talking about political contributions… Most of them [corporations] contribute to both sides, they have political action committees, that's fine. It's legal, it's appropriate, I support that. I'm talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state, because you don't like a particular law that passed, I just think it's stupid." In other words, if you (corporate America) are thinking of opposing something I support, you better not do it!

Donald Trump the faux populist in chief chimed in with a call to boycott businesses in Georgia who had the audacity to publicly oppose the horrible Georgia voter suppression laws just passed. In a rich example of irony, Trump was filmed calling for a boycott of, among other Georgia based corporations, Coca Cola, while right on camera was a partially hidden can of coke which he undoubtedly had just been drinking. [See Nathaniel Meyersohn, “Trump wants you to boycott Coke. His properties are still serving it.”]

Trump supporters were also encouraged to boycott Major League Baseball because they moved the All Star Game out of Georgia.

[The decision by Major League Baseball to move the All Star Game – which had been scheduled to take place in Atlanta --- is actually fraught with contradictory results. That action sends a strong message both to Georgia and to other states considering voter suppression laws that there will be consequences. The problem of course, is that there will be significant damage to the well-being and livelihoods of perfectly innocent workers and small business owners, many of whom (in Atlanta for sure) are people of color who probably strongly oppose the new laws. This was the same problem encountered by the anti-Apartheid movement as it struggled to put pressure on the white minority government of South Africa in the 1980s.  Those who opposed the economic isolation of South Africa would constantly claim that the ordinary citizens of South Africa were the ones most likely to be harmed by the international boycott. Nevertheless, the internal organized opposition to the Apartheid government consistently urged their international allies to continue the effort to isolate South Africa economically and culturally. On balance, I think such boycott activity makes a very positive impact despite the damage done to innocent individuals. The fact that Republican politicians are responding so angrily should indicate that they are bothered by similar actions by American businesses. Therefore, boycotts of states passing voter suppression laws should be encouraged.]

However, let’s not go overboard praising the individuals and organizations who signed the AD. Behind the rhetoric of the AD remains the fact that corporate America has continued to lavish vast sums of money on politicians who wholeheartedly support voter suppression. In a detailed report entitled “Wall Street Money in Washington,” Americans for Financial Reform identified over $2.9 billion in contributions just from the Financial Sector of the economy in 2019-2020.  In that election cycle, individuals and entities associated with the financial sector reported making $4,971,464 in contributions to the 8 Republican Senators and $38,512,126 to the 139 House members who voted to overturn the election.

Now – it is true that when these contributions were made, these 147 members of Congress had not yet gone on record with votes to overturn the election. That actually gives all the signatories of the AD who waxed eloquent on the importance of the right to vote a chance to put their money where their signatures are. All the individuals and organizations who signed the AD are very prominent. Thus they can easily get the media to publicize any specific action they take to prove that they meant what they said when they signed the AD. I call upon all of them to publicly proclaim that from this day forward they will not give a penny in contributions --- directly or indirectly --- to anyone who voted to overturn the election back in January NOR to anyone who votes for any of the voter suppression bills wending their way through various state legislatures.

[Indirect contributions are notoriously difficult to trace which is why I have to remain skeptical about how serious the signatories are about defending voting rights.]

I also call upon these individuals and entities to promise not to give a penny to support any Governor who signs such a bill. (This latter is particularly important because there are Governors --- specifically Governor DeSantis of Florida --- who have their eyes on the 2024 Republican nomination for President. If DeSantis can be persuaded to veto such bills in Florida for fear of being cash strapped when he declares for the Presidency, that would be a wonderful thing.)

For the public at large I propose the following action. Check out the AD and chose an individual or corporation (or non-profit, university, or law firm). Make it your business to send them mail or e-mails (or make telephone calls) over and over again demanding that they pledge not to contribute to any politician who votes for voter suppression.

We have to make corporate America put their money where their mouths are.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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