- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Hundreds of CEOs and executives from major U.S. companies on Wednesday signed on as opponents of new election laws in Republican-run states, potentially alienating their conservative customers by lining up alongside Democrats in a fierce political battle over how America votes.

Large tech companies, big banks, major airlines and retail businesses all signed a statement vowing to oppose “any discriminatory legislation” in states that tighten election laws.

Kenneth Chenault, former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck, helped organize the joint statement, which appears as a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

“For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us,” the statement said. “We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot. Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy, and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans.”

The executives insisted they were not taking a political stand. Nevertheless, the stand they took invited a partisan response.

Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union, said the political activism by companies such as Amazon, Apple, Bank of America, United Airlines and Target would provoke a backlash of conservative boycotts.

“These corporations are extremely shortsighted,” Mr. Schneider said. “They have relied on conservative and free-market activist organizations to argue for the policies that create jobs and increase shareholder value. By turning their backs on conservatives, they believe they are currying favor with the radical left in Congress and the White House. That’s going to be a short-lived proposition for them. They’re going to be bitten in the you-know-what.”

The American Conservative Union this week launched a campaign to urge businesses not to bow to the agenda of the political left. They asked for meetings with business leaders and threatened grassroots action if rebuffed.

How the businesses’ statement resonates with customers remained to be seen, but large swaths of the U.S. marketplace don’t buy into liberal doctrine.

A Gallup survey released this year found that 36% of Americans identify as conservative, 35% as moderate and 25% as liberal.

The business leaders’ statement does not identify individual states or specific legislation that the business executives deem objectionable. However, it echoes liberal outrage over Georgia’s new election laws and Republicans’ push for election safeguards such as voter ID requirements.

Requiring identification to vote is commonplace in the U.S. and has been on the books for decades. Thirty-six states currently require voters to show ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The laws have become increasingly strict in some states, where photo IDs are now required. More than a dozen states specifically request photo identification to cast a ballot. Indiana was the first state to implement a strict photo requirement, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2008.

Voter fraud and duplicate voting can be prevented by voter ID laws, conservatives say. They point to scores of countries that require identification to vote, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Argentina and Brazil.

Still, a heated political battle is underway as states with Republican-run legislatures in Georgia, Texas, Michigan and Arizona pass voting legislation in the wake of irregularities and unsubstantiated charges of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats accuse the states of imposing restrictions that are racist and suppress minority voting.

Republicans say the laws are necessary to enhance election security and restore faith in the voting process.

Georgia’s Republican-run legislature has enacted a law requiring a government ID to request absentee by-mail ballots. Critics claim minorities do not have access to IDs like White voters do.

CEOs from Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines have criticized the Georgia law, and Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest.

Liberal activists applauded the “woke” mindset of the business community. The Chamber of Progress, a new liberal advocacy coalition partnered with large technology companies, expressed elation over the business leaders’ statement and asked to be added to the list of signatories.

Republicans were furious. They warned the business community against embracing liberal talking points and rejecting their longtime conservative allies.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said the left had launched an “assault on free and fair elections.”

“Corporate America has joined AOC and [Stacey] Abrams in opposing common-sense ideas like requiring voter ID and preventing ballot harvesting,” she said. “It’s time for companies like Delta Air Lines and the MLB to put their money where their mouth is — stop requiring customers to show their ID at the airport or pick up baseball tickets.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, has called for removing the MLB’s immunity from antitrust laws in retaliation for the boycott.

“If they’re going to play partisan enforcer, they shouldn’t expect to see special goodies from Washington when they are dishonestly acting to favor one party against the other,” Mr. Cruz said.

Former President Donald Trump called on his supporters this month to boycott companies that opposed or retaliated against Georgia’s election laws. Those companies included Major League Baseball, Delta, Coca-Cola, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS and Merck.

Of those companies, Cisco, Merck and ViacomCBS doubled down by joining the statement Wednesday. Coca-Cola and Delta declined to add their names to the statement, according to The New York Times.

The National Basketball Association did not sign the statement, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver did.

Traditional business and industry advocacy groups were noticeably silent about the activism by major corporations.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Sabrina Fang told The Washington Times that she did not see the ads with the statement and pointed to her organization’s opposition to congressional Democrats’ election overhaul bill, known as H.R. 1, which would set national election standards and kill many of the laws being adopted in Republican-run states.

Those signing the statement said they did not fear repercussions.

Mary-Hunter McDonnell, a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, said she was excited to sign the statement and that businesses won’t face much blowback for taking a political stand.

“Research suggests that there tends to be very little backlash in response to corporate activism that is consistent with a company’s stated values. In fact, companies whose activism is consistent with their values tend to see it met with increased loyalty and support from their core stakeholders, especially their employees,” she said. “Companies typically only get into trouble when their activism is perceived as hypocritical or inauthentic.”

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