Corporate Political Spending Under the Spotlight Again: Georgia Voter Suppression

Corporations are still struggling with pressure on political contributions to elected officials connected to the January 6 insurrection in the Capitol Building, and now they are also under the microscope for connections to Georgia and other states enacting restrictive and racist new laws suppressing the votes of BIPOC and poor people.

Connections to January 6

Popular Info’s Judd Legum reports that Intel, ATT, and Cigna are reneging on their commitments to withdraw support from elected officials tied to the January 6 insurrection or efforts to derail certification of the Presidential election.

Connections to Georgia and Other Voter Suppression Efforts

In early March, Popular Information identified 22 major corporations that financially backed the sponsors of voter suppression legislation in Georgia. We asked each company whether they supported the legislation. None of the companies said they were opposed.

That report became a central piece of a campaign against the legislation by civil rights groups like the Georgia NAACP, the New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter. The coalition urged those companies — particularly those headquartered in Georgia such as Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, Home Depot, and Aflac — to speak out against the legislation. While the companies stayed publicly neutral, the pressure campaign did result in the removal of some of the more egregious provisions, including eliminating no-excuse absentee voting, from the bill. 

But when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill into law on March 25, it still banned outdoor drop boxes, imposed a voter ID provision on absentee ballots, criminalized handing out water to voters waiting in line, and reduced opportunities for early voting during runoff elections. 

It is well worth reading Legum’s entire article and indeed his entire series on this issue to see the CEOs of Georgia-based Delta and Coca-Cola waffle and squirm, initially sounding neutral or even supportive of the legislation and then, following consumer feedback and boycott hashtags, speaking out against the legislation but not exactly promising to stop supporting the legislators behind the new law.

On Slate, in an article titled Why Everyone Is So Mad at Delta Air Lines Over Voting Rights, Jeremy Stahl writes:

Perhaps no corporation has received more blowback than Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which has donated at least $41,600 since 2018 to the sponsors of the legislation that became S.B. 202. Last week, Delta—which is the state’s largest employer—faced protests at its main terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and calls for the company to be boycotted after CEO Ed Bastian offered a mealy-mouthed statement that failed to condemn the law. In that statement, Bastian claimed that his company “engaged extensively with state elected officials in both parties” to “improve” the law. Activists disagreed and the hashtag “BoycottDelta” was soon trending on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Bastian reversed course. In a letter to employees, the Delta CEO acknowledged that the law will make it harder for Black Georgians to cast their votes, saying that the law is “wrong,” and stating that it was “based on a lie” that there was rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election. This firm statement then caused a counterbacklash from the state’s elected Republicans, with the Georgia House of Representatives voting on Wednesday evening to punish Delta by revoking a tax break on jet fuel. (The state Senate declined to advance the measure, and so it failed for the time being.)

As much as it infuriated Georgia Republicans, though, Bastian’s statement stopped short of pledging any substantive action to work to reverse the “unacceptable” law. Indeed, when I asked Delta’s corporate communications on Wednesday whether the company would pledge to divest donations from the legislators who sponsored, supported, and ultimately passed the law that their own CEO now acknowledges is “wrong”—a key demand of organizers—Delta would not make any such commitment. “As it relates to DeltaPAC and our political donations, we have robust processes in place for reviewing candidates before every contribution to ensure they align with both Delta’s position on priority aviation and business issues, and our values. Previous contributions do not mean DeltaPAC will contribute to a candidate in the future,” Lisa Hanna of Delta corporate communications told me.

Stahl quotes one of the protest organizers, Latosha Brown: “I don’t need them to monitor anything. I need them to support it. They monitored S.B. 202. The world monitored. What we need now is action.” 

We expect investors to back Brown and the other protesters on Georgia and all vote suppression legislation. MLB’s All-Star game has already been taken away from Georgia; corporate CEOs should be willing to be as decisive.

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