The failed insurrection of January 6 is not the first existential threat faced by American democracy, and it will not be the last for many years to come, with implications for corporate citizens along with everyone else. The attempted bloodless coup continues to spin out in the form of new state-based voter suppression laws that threaten to cement minority rule as a permanent feature. So far, business leaders have stood by to let it happen, but a new movement suggests that they could be stirred into action by motivated consumers.
The corporate response to the events of January 6 was tepid at first. Although 147 Republican members of Congress publicly supported the insurrection, only a handful of business leaders initially pledged to stop funding their election campaigns.
The violent part of the coup was over by the evening of January 6, but the insurrection continued to spin out as hundreds of new voter suppression laws were introduced in almost every state. More recently, legislation trackers have noted that at least 14 Republican-dominated state legislatures have been taking steps to exert partisan control over the administration of state election offices.
Though some business leaders continued to raise concerns over the looming threat to the democratic process, many others refrained from speaking out publicly, and continued to provide financial support for lawmakers who support insurrection, voter suppression, or both.
There is at least one explanation for the sweeping, seemingly coordinated precision of these state-based actions.
Several watchdog groups have noted that ALEC, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, has been applying its well-known “bill mill” practice to craft state legislation that makes it more difficult for Democratic-leaning voters to cast a ballot. That’s bad news for the brand reputation of ALEC’s remaining corporate members, who were already tarnished earlier this year when reports surfaced that an ALEC-affiliated lawyer was advising Trump on his “election fraud” strategy leading up to the events of January 6.
ALEC’s impact on brand reputation actually dates back years earlier than the failed insurrection. The organization lost many corporate sponsors during the Obama administration, when its hard line stance on gun control and vigilantism encountered growing opposition from grassroots groups like Moms Demand Action. Other leading brands have recently dropped their ALEC membership over the organization’s reputation as a leading opponent of climate action.
As it turns out, many leading corporations did follow through on their pledges to cut donations to the federal lawmakers who voted in support of the insurrection on the evening of January 6.
However, that still leaves some of those same corporations vulnerable to criticism over their continued support for state lawmakers who sponsor repressive bills.
Publicity surrounding Pride Month has helped to expose that disconnect. Independent journalist Judd Legum has been tracking patterns of corporate donations related to the failed insurrection, and during Pride Month he turned his attention to spotlight 25 top corporations that profess to support Pride Month, and which score high on human rights indexes, but have donated money to state legislators who support anti-trans bills.
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Now a group of more than 300 voting rights organizations has upped the ante.
In a public letter posted last week on yubanet.com, Common Cause, Fair Fight Action and approximately 300 other voting rights organizations called out leading corporations for continuing to fund lawmakers who support repressive state legislations, through their association with ALEC.
One activist behind the letter is Cliff Albright, the executive director and co-founder of Black Voters Matter.
“We have repeatedly said that corporations must stop funding the elected officials who sponsor and vote for voter suppression, and this demand is equally important in regards to conservative groups and think tanks who fuel the Jim Crow-era approach of creating and replicating racist legislation,” Albright said, adding that “Companies are complicit if they are creating a pro-business environment by supporting anti-democratic organizations and policies.”
In addition to posting the letter publicly, the new campaign is sending it individually to a group of top corporations, and to several trade organizations as well.
In the past, corporations could safely provide financial support to Republican state law makers, even as they sponsored Pride Month activities, professed to support Black Lives Matter and promoted get-out-the-vote initiatives.
Now that safe space has been shredded by Republican extremists who sponsor legislation that decimates LGBTQ rights, blocks education on structural racism and attempts to silence the votes of anyone who disagrees.
The news media is already taking note of a backlash against right wing authoritarianism by the public in other countries including Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Myanmar and Brazil — and some are lumping former president Trump in a similar category.
The new letter organized by Common Cause and others is a warning shot that public opinion in the U.S. is coalescing around the preservation of democracy, not the installation of authoritarian rule via these ongoing bloodless coup attempts.
Corporate citizens who wish to maintain the nation’s reputation as a showcase for both democracy and free enterprise have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve by publicly supporting voting rights organizations with real dollars, not just words.
Image credit: Manny Becerra/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.