On Saturday, April 10, the CEOs from dozens of the country’s leading corporations came together on Zoom to talk about ways Corporate America can aid in the fight against a number of controversial and racist voter suppression laws that are currently in discussion across the U.S., including the new law already signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia.
According to The Washington Post’s Todd C. Frankel, “executives from major airlines, retailers and manufacturers — plus at least one NFL owner — talked about potential ways to show they opposed the legislation, including by halting donations to politicians who support the bills and even delaying investments in states that pass the restrictive measures.” Corporate leaders taking part in the call included CEOs from Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target (No. 13 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020), LinkedIn, Levi Strauss, the Boston Consulting Group and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
While no definitive “final” steps were agreed upon following the call, political pundits say the meeting does show an “aggressive dialing up” effort within the business world to help fight the passage of these controversial voting measures nationwide — efforts that have only grown in fervor and intensity since Georgia passed its anti-POC voting disenfranchisement law in March.
“It also came just days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that firms should ‘stay out of politics’ — echoing a view shared by many conservative politicians and setting up the potential for additional conflict between Republican leaders and the heads of some of America’s largest firms,” Frankel reported.
According to Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of management at Yale University who helped to organize the call, the ongoing commitment of these corporate leaders also shows that “they are not intimidated by the flak. They are not going to be cowed. They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous.”
Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, led the call and expressed to other executives in the meeting just how essential their efforts were in fighting against the passage of these discriminatory laws. Chenault and Frazier had previously coordinated a similar letter signed by 72 Black business executives, unifying the message being sent to lawmakers from corporate leaders.
“There was a defiance of the threats that businesses should stay out of politics,” Sonnenfeld said. “They were obviously rejecting that even with their presence (on the call). But they were there out of concern about voting restrictions not being in the public interest.”
Republican lawmakers in Georgia and many of the other states where these laws are being considered have claimed their goal is to fight voter fraud and improve access to the polls but their efforts are doing the exact opposite: banning ballot drop boxes, limit voting periods, restricting absentee voting and stiffening requirements for voter identification. Experts say these measures would disproportionately impact Democrats, especially people of color who vote Democrat — one of the Democratic Party’s largest voting blocks.
Citing the Brennan Center for Justice, Frankel reported that there are “five bills with new voter restrictions have been passed nationwide so far, with 55 restrictive bills in 24 states being considered by legislatures.”
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