With Republican state legislators from Georgia to Michigan to Texas waging war on voting rights, corporate executives and major businesses on Wednesday spoke out with an advertisement that ran in both the New York Times and Washington Post—but progressives want them to go even further and support federal legislation that would largely thwart the recent GOP attacks on American democracy.
In a statement Wednesday responding to the ad, Ryan Thomas of Repair Our Democracy, a project of the nonprofit Democracy 21, specifically encouraged these business leaders and companies to support the For the People Act (H.R. 1/ S. 1), a sweeping bill of pro-democracy reforms that passed the Democrat-controlled House in March but faces an uphill battle in the Senate due to its even split and the filibuster.
"If these corporations truly want to protect our voting rights, they should immediately declare their support for the For the People Act."
—Ryan Thomas, Repair Our Democracy
"While it's great that these executives and their companies oppose the Jim Crow-style laws that GOP lawmakers are pushing across the country, this kind of talk is cheap without action," Thomas said.
"If these corporations truly want to protect our voting rights, they should immediately declare their support for the For the People Act, which passed the House and is pending in the Senate and which would roll back many of the voter suppression laws being pursued that would undermine democracy," he added.
Common Cause, in a series of tweets Wednesday, also called for the ad's signatories to go further, saying that "this statement is a good start, but there is more corporate leaders must do to protect the freedom to vote and strengthen our democracy."
The group shared four specific recommendations, urging corporate leaders to cut off money for politicians and groups that are attacking voting rights and start supporting organizations and legislation that aim to protect and expand access to the ballot box, including the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Acts.
2. CEOs and corporations must stop funding special interest groups that are pushing these legislative and legal attacks on our right to vote and democracy, including @Heritage @ALEC_states @FreedomWorks @JudicialWatch @honestelections & others pic.twitter.com/dwGBgAbPaH
— Common Cause (@CommonCause) April 14, 2021
4. CEOs and corporations should support state and federal legislative efforts to protect the right to vote and strengthen our democracy, including the #ForThePeopleAct and the John Lewis #VotingRights Advancement Act in Congress pic.twitter.com/gXzrpIdkdJ
— Common Cause (@CommonCause) April 14, 2021
The Times reports that the statement was organized by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier.
"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," according to the newspaper. "Within days, they had a draft of the statement and were sharing it with other executives."
Other signatories to the ad include Amazon, Apple, Bank of America, BlackRock, Facebook, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, JetBlue, Levi Strauss, MasterCard, Microsoft, Netflix, Nordstrom, Paypal, Peloton, Reddit, REI Co-op, Starbucks, Target, Twitter, United Airlines, ViacomCBS, and Wells Fargo.
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Individuals include business leaders and celebrities such as Orlando Bloom, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Tory Burch, Naomi Campbell, Kenneth D. Cole, Larry David, Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry Fink, Queen Latifah, George Lucas, Shonda Rhimes, and Mark Ruffalo, along with various law firms, nonprofit groups, and foundations.
"We should all feel a 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," says the ad, adding that "voting is the lifeblood of our democracy."
WE STAND FOR DEMOCRACY -- 100s of companies and exec sign this letter opposing "any discriminatory legislation." Ad appeared in the NYT and @washingtonpost today. w / @andrewrsorkin https://t.co/TSPtxjkWhR pic.twitter.com/bAtS8SyseB
— David Gelles (@dgelles) April 14, 2021
"It should be clear that there is overwhelming support in corporate America for the principle of voting rights," Chenault told the Times, though the joint statement doesn't call out any specific states or legislation. "We are not being prescriptive... There is no one answer."
The ad comes after Georgia Republicans last month enacted a voter suppression law that critics—including President Joe Biden—have condemned as "Jim Crow in the 21st century." The legislation prompted Major League Baseball to relocate the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta and provoked criticism from Georgia-based companies.
Top Republicans from across the country have responded with calls to boycott critical companies. Earlier this month, former President Donald Trump issued a statement directing his supporters to "boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck."
As the Times reports:
Coca-Cola and Delta, which condemned the Georgia law after it was passed, declined to add their names, according to people familiar with the matter. Home Depot also declined, even though its co-founder Arthur Blank said in a call with other business executives on Saturday that he supported voting rights. Another Home Depot co-founder, Ken Langone, is a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump.
Coca-Cola and Delta declined to comment. Home Depot said in a statement on Tuesday that "the most appropriate approach for us to take is to continue to underscore our belief that all elections should be accessible, fair, and secure."
The newspaper notes that "Chase also declined to sign the statement despite a personal request from senior Black business leaders to the chief executive, Jamie Dimon." A spokesperson for the bank said that "we publicly made our own strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundamental right to vote."
Some companies have also put out statements denouncing legislative efforts in states where they operate. Detroit-based General Motors on Tuesday said that "we're calling on lawmakers in Michigan, and across the nation, to ensure any changes to voting laws result in protecting and enhancing the most precious element of democracy."
Since just the start of this year, GOP lawmakers across 47 states have introduced at least 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. At least five of those measures have been signed into law.