Editor's note, Jan 6.: In the wake of the breach today at the U.S. Capitol, the Business Roundtable, one leading association of U.S. CEOs, has said: “The chaos unfolding in the nation’s capital is the result of unlawful efforts to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election. The country deserves better. Business Roundtable calls on the President and all relevant officials to put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.”
With the two open U.S. Senate seats in Georgia to be decided as soon as tonight (though highly unlikely) in a hotly contested runoff, along with the contentious maneuvers planned to challenge the certification of the Electoral College results tomorrow in Congress, one outcome is that more CEOs are speaking out. The Business Roundtable, for example, has urged leaders in both houses of Congress to respect two centuries’ worth of tradition and continue with the peaceful transition of power. The powerful National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) issued a similarly-worded statement on Monday.
With the exception of a few CEOs, such as Doug McMillon of Walmart, most corporate leaders have shied away from explicitly urging the current president to ride off into the sunset. That’s understandable to a certain point in this volatile political climate — and after all, business groups can offer these CEOs cover when they express views that could be unpopular with some of their stakeholders.
The problem, however, is that the proverbial bandage has already been ripped off. The void of leadership in Washington, D.C. means that many CEOs will have to take a stand.
Now, there’s additional evidence suggesting that more CEOs could voice their displeasure with the state of our current politics by withholding their wallets. During an interview with CNBC earlier today, Yale School of Management’s Jeffrey Sonnenfelt said more than two dozen CEOs told him they are considering yanking their financial support for GOP politicians on Capitol Hill who have aligned themselves with President Donald Trump’s ongoing challenge to the November election results.
Such a shift is important, as for the past few decades, many business leaders have funneled money to both political parties as a way to hedge their bets depending on who wins the White House.
But according to Sonnenfelt, who said he hosted a private conference call earlier today with at least 33 CEOs, these same leaders are getting fed up. When he asked if business leaders should warn lobbyists privately that their companies would no longer support politicians who continue to contest the presidential election results, all of them replied with a “yes.”
“They all wanted to move to [an] action stage, saying we need to actually put our money where our mouth is,” Sonnenfelt told CNBC, “and start to go after what they saw as either insurrectionists, or some of them in fact, were using the term ‘aiding and abetting sedition’ of these 50 percent of the GOP House and 25 percent of the Senate.”
Sonnenfelt led a similar conference call 10 days after the November election, during which CEOs told him they would start to issue public statements and pressure elected officials if, after all legal challenges were exhausted, the Trump administration did not start to work with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. Of course, Trump and his supporters are still challenging the results despite their failure in the courts, and Sonnenfelt indicated that the business leaders with whom he spoke could start taking bolder action in the weeks ahead.
“We haven’t seen them put the money where their mouth is previously, and that’s a big change,” Sonnenfeld added during his CNBC appearance.
While many business leaders have expressed support for respecting the U.S. election process, their calls to action have been relatively muted compared to those of former political and military leaders — the recent Washington Post op-ed signed by 10 former U.S. secretaries of defense being one example. But the business community is finally getting the message: A healthy democracy and respect for the U.S. Constitution are not only for our collective safety and security — without them, conducting business the way they know it is also now under threat.
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Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.