As many as 100 CEOs and other senior business leaders from American companies attended a massive Zoom conference call on Saturday to discuss the possibility of a unified effort against Republican measures across the nation to suppress voting rights, The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Action could include cutting donations to lawmakers backing such laws — or even delaying investments in states trying to constrain voting rights, according to a statement from the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, which participated in the call.
The company leaders came together just days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sternly warned businesses to stay out of politics — except for continuing to donate money to politicians.
Executives “are not going to be cowed,” one of the call organizers, Yale School of Management Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, told the Post. “They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous.”
There was “defiance” in the face of “threats that businesses should stay out of politics,” he added. “But they were there out of concern about voting restrictions not being in the public interest.”
A statement from the group may be issued this week that would build on one signed by 72 Black executives in the wake of Georgia’s restrictive new voting law, the Journal reported.
Executives at PepsiCo, PayPal, T. Rowe Price and Hess Corp. had already agreed to sign such a statement, former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault told conference participants, according to the Journal.
Executives on the call represented major airlines, retailers and manufacturers.
Participants included leaders of Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target, LinkedIn, Levi Strauss and Boston Consulting Group, American Express, AMC Entertainment, Estee Lauder, Merck — and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot, according to the Post and Journal.
One executive in Georgia noted that the state’s law was much worse than expected, noted the Post.
No final steps were agreed upon. But the Post characterized the organizing as an “aggressive dialing up of corporate America’s stand against controversial voting measures nationwide.” The action also highlights the fraying of the traditional alliance between America’s businesses and the Republican Party.
Corporate opposition to vote suppression measures was triggered last month after the Georgia legislature passed a law instituting stringent new requirements for mail-in ballots, sharply reduced the number of ballot drop boxes and voting hours — and even made it a crime to offer food or water to residents waiting to vote at the polls. President Joe Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, both stepped up criticism of the law, particularly after consumers began calling for a boycott of companies who stayed silent in the face of voter suppression.
Major League Baseball earlier this month moved its All-Star Game out of Atlanta to Colorado to protest the new law. That triggered calls from Donald Trump to boycott MLB — and Coca-Cola and seven other companies — despite his repeated angry complaints about the so-called “cancel culture” of progressives. (Trump continued to drink Diet Coke, ignoring his own call for a boycott.)
Five bills with new voter restrictions have been passed nationwide so far. An additional 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are currently moving through legislatures, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.