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Tina Casey headshot

State-Sanctioned Voter Suppression, Brought to You by America’s Leading Corporate Citizens

By Tina Casey
voter suppression

Having failed to enable the takeover of the U.S. federal government by force, Republican legislators are now relying on new state-based voter suppression laws to rein in Black voters, among others. This new push for voter suppression laws has exposed last year’s corporate-supported voter drives as little more than a game of whack-a-mole. The real power rests with the elected officials who make election law, and now some unwanted attention is now turning on the corporate donors who helped put them in office.

State-based voter suppression bills rise from the ashes of failed insurrection

The failed insurrection of January 6 is coming into sharp focus as an organized attempt by white supremacists to overthrow the U.S. government. They were incited and legitimized by former President Trump’s aggressive amplification of voter fraud lies. They were also enabled - wittingly or not - by the 147 Republican members of Congress who supported the Trump voter fraud campaign by raising spurious objections to the Electoral College results in several key states.

The mob eventually cleared out from the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, but the white supremacist movement continues to lean on the voter fraud canard to justify more than 250 new pieces of state legislation aimed at making it harder for Black voters, and other likely groups of voters who at a minimum lean Democrat, to cast a ballot.

Where does corporate America stand?

In the days following January 6, several leading U.S. corporations recognized the reputational risk of helping insurrection enablers into office. They announced that they were withholding donations to PACs associated with all 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College certification. Others pledged to review all of their PAC donations.

However, the exceptions proved the rule. By February, the movement to inflict financial punishment on insurrection enablers lost steam. Even as the number of state-based voter suppression bills climbed into the hundreds, corporate America made no organized attempt to defend its own position on voter rights.

In an apparent attempt to provide cover for corporate donors, last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a memo arguing that the 147 Republican insurrection enablers did not deserve to lose corporate support simply because they cast a vote.

Casting a vote is different than organizing the rally of January 6th or continuing to push debunked conspiracy theories,” the Chamber wrote, neglecting to specify that the votes of January 6 were cast in support of the voter fraud conspiracy theory that was supposedly debunked.

Brand reputation at risk

The state-based voter suppression effort has finally begun to catch media attention. Particular attention is being paid to Georgia as the most egregious example. Not coincidentally, last year a massive get-out-the-vote drive sent Black voters to the polls in numbers high enough to deliver their state to Joe Biden as well as Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black vice president; in a January runoff election, they sent Rev. Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black U.S. Senator, into office.

With Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on the verge of signing new voter suppression bills into law, it seems that the brand reputation chickens have come home to roost.

Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.

Independent journalist Judd Legum has been tracking the flow of corporate dollars, and last week he drew attention to a new campaign that links corporate donors to voter suppression efforts. The campaign was launched by the Georgia NAACP, New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter, targeting leading household brands including Coca-Cola, Delta, and Home Depot along with Aflac and Southern Company.

The campaign also name-checks the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Black Chamber of Commerce.

By yesterday afternoon, major Georgia-based companies including Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot said they were either aligned with the Georgia Chamber's pushback against this legislation or put out a statement in support of voting rights.

In particular, Legum cites the New Georgia Project, which issued a statement underscoring the hypocrisy of corporate support for Black History Month even as new voter suppression bills worked their way to the Governor’s desk.

“Simply put, being a good ally means showing up for marginalized communities when they are under attack,” NGP wrote. “Despite organizing Black History Month campaigns and using Black Lives Matter slogans, many corporations in Georgia support lawmakers working to disenfranchise Black voters, while others remain mum on the issue entirely.”

A corporate game of get-out-the-vote whack-a-mole

Legum has also been turned attention to corporate links in another voter suppression hotspot, Arizona. Culling through “thousands of Arizona campaign finance records filed over the last three years,” he identified hundreds of thousands in corporate donations to Republican elected officials sponsoring 22 voter suppression bills.

Last week, Legum reported that two corporate donors, Union Pacific and Prudential Financial, went on the record in opposition to the most egregious of the Arizona bills.

However, he also excoriated other corporations for remaining silent about voter suppression bills, including Farmers Insurance Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Wells Fargo and General Motors.

In particular, Legum singled out Cox Communications:

Cox Communications (Cox), for example, touts its commitment to "voting rights and justice for all" on its corporate website. In the run-up to the 2020 election, Cox partnered with Rock The Vote and Vote Safe 2020 to encourage people to exercise their voting rights. ‘[P]atriotism and civic duty is in our DNA," the company said in a tweet, ‘Its our belief to do the right thing, always.’”

Legum also called out Pinnacle West for the hypocrisy of supporting suppressive legislators with one hand, while the other hand the company is associated with a leading Arizona business group that is pushing back against voter suppression.

The group, Greater Phoenix Leadership, published an op-ed on March 3 that drew a bright line from the Republican voter fraud canard to the wave of voter suppression legislation:

“These proposals are a concerted effort from those in Arizona - and across the nation- who wish to sow additional doubts about our elections in the minds of voters, and feed into the paranoia that has plagued our political discourse over the past several months. Disturbingly, each of these proposals have one thing in common – making it more difficult for Arizonans to vote.”

Mainstream media takes notice

Corporate links to state-based voter suppression efforts are now in the crosshairs of mainstream media, aided by the high profile of Georgia-based voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

On March 15, Forbes turned up the heat by publishing an editorial by Senior Contributor Michael Posner, who made case for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to establish voter suppression as a disqualifying criterion for corporate support.

“Leading business associations like the Chamber should not reward candidates who are limiting the right to vote. Nothing less than the integrity and vitality of our democracy is at stake,” Posner wrote.

It remains to be seen if the public attention finally compels corporate supporters of voting rights to organize a more vigorous defense of their efforts. As of this writing, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is still making weak excuses for itself and providing cover for its members.

Image credit: Manny Becerra/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

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.

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