Protesters protest inside the Capitol Building against House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Megan Varner | Getty Images
Corporate leaders are now fighting behind the scenes against Republican-backed electoral laws that they believe are too restrictive after repeated attacks by GOP leaders and their well-funded allies.
Since the outcry earlier this year over the passage of the new electoral law in Georgia, which critics say is wrongly directed against minorities, many executives and companies are now voicing their concerns privately, according to several people who have been briefed on the matter. Some executives have said they are concerned that the laws may harm their employees.
Corporations like Coca-Cola and organizations like Major League Baseball protested Georgia law. GOP officials in other states, including Texas, have pushed laws that have been criticized by Democrats and suffrage activists.
Some people who have spoken to CNBC declined to appear in this article to avoid retaliation. Others declined to be named as these efforts are ongoing and details have not yet been released.
Executives seek to influence lawmakers at the state and federal levels, including advocating the democratically-backed John Lewis voting rights and For the People laws in Congress.
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One of the state-level campaigns is to pressure NCAA leaders to respond forcefully to the introduction of electoral laws in Texas, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Another feature is a legion of corporate attorneys who respond to Pennsylvania’s electoral laws.
The move to behind-the-scenes campaigns comes after top Republicans including the governors of Texas and Georgia and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky convicted corporate leaders for speaking out against electoral laws.
“There is some real behind-the-scenes work to find companies that have decided, ‘Hey, taking Republican leaders publicly is not the best tactic,’ and that have decided to work with lobbyists behind the scenes to address some of these Getting Rid of Regulations A Better Way, “Tom Rogers, former TiVo CEO and former NBC executive who helped found CNBC and MSNBC, said in an interview Thursday. Rogers said he contacted executives who were involved in the effort.
The behind-the-scenes effort also comes after hundreds of business leaders and corporations signed a public statement opposing “discriminatory laws or measures that limit or prevent an elector from having an equal and fair opportunity to vote “.
The impartial Brennan Center for Justice states that as of March lawmakers introduced 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions in 47 states.
The new electoral law in Georgia, according to an analysis, provides stricter guidelines for acceptable voter identification, a limit on the number of dropboxes in certain counties, and an effective ban on third parties distributing water to people in line for elections.
James Quincey, CEO of Coca-Cola in Georgia, targeted the state’s electoral law in an interview with CNBC. Quincey and Coca-Cola are targeted in an advertising campaign by groups like the conservative Outfit Consumers’ Research.
American Airlines, headquartered in Texas, has spoken out against a bill that, according to the company, “contains provisions that restrict access to voting.” Consumers’ research is also aimed at the airline’s CEO, Doug Parker.
Home State response
Privately, business leaders target specific laws in their home states, according to Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a leadership expert and professor at Yale, who organized virtual meetings with business leaders to decide on a response after Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had signed his state’s law.
“In the next phase, the problems will be examined from state to state,” said Sonnenfeld, describing the most recent discussions with executives. “The business community needs to focus on state-to-state efforts.”
Some of the steps go beyond the broader public statements many companies have signed, Sonnenfeld and others said. In many cases, companies try to do the balancing act by responding to laws they consider restrictive and potentially unconstitutional while trying to assert themselves as impartial.
One such effort is for business leaders to pressure the heads of the NCAA, the national college sports organization, to get a response similar to what it did after North Carolina passed the transgender bathroom ban in 2016, said one person familiar with the Lobbying push is familiar.
After that bill was passed, the NCAA drew at least seven college championship games from North Carolina. The bill was later repealed, and the NCAA subsequently lifted its ban.
Now, says a person familiar with the lobbying efforts, business leaders opposed to the Texas vote are urging the NCAA to take a similar move in the Lone Star State if the bill becomes law.
Progress Texas group said the NCAA should consider withdrawing from future basketball tournament games in Texas.
An NCAA press representative responded to CNBC’s request, referring to a statement released by the Board of Governors in April.
“While the integrity of the elections is essential to the electoral process, equal opportunities for all Americans cannot be compromised in any way, and we wholeheartedly support efforts to assist everyone in the exercise of this fundamental right,” the statement said.
Another effort in Texas stems from a letter signed by over 180 local business and community leaders and 50 companies including American Airlines, NBC News reported earlier this month. The letter urges all elected leaders in Texas to support reforms that make democracy more accessible and to oppose changes that would restrict voters’ access to the ballot.
Although no specific bill was specifically mentioned in the letter, these company leaders have worked privately with Governor Greg Abbott and Governor Dan Patrick, both Republicans, stressing that these bills could have a negative impact on company employees, said a person working with the range is familiar to, told CNBC.
Patrick said in April that he had heard from an executive at American Airlines who appeared to have told him that the company was breaking electoral law under a bill. In April, the Texas Tribune said that the bill, if signed into law, would “limit extended early voting hours, ban drive-through voting, and make it illegal for local election officials to proactively mail requests to vote to voters, themselves.” if these qualify. “
The response from private and public corporations seems to have made a difference in Texas. The Texas House passed a scaled-down version of a bill that included voting laws. It is now up for a vote in the Senate.
Sonnenfeld also pointed to Pennsylvania, where Brad Karp, attorney and chairman of legal giant Paul Weiss, organized a group of nearly 100 attorneys to respond to possible restrictive electoral laws in that state. Karp declined to comment on CNBC when asked about these efforts.
The Brennan Center lists a dozen Pennsylvania state bills that it claims limit voting. Pennsylvania has a Democratic governor, but Republicans control the legislature.
Organize future responses
While several companies in certain states are battling the various GOP-sponsored voting laws, efforts are also being made to get corporate support for two different federal voting laws.
Business leaders are working with Michelle Obama-backed voter registration group When We All Vote and their allies, including some Time to Vote corporate members, to compile a statement in support of the For the People Act, according to those familiar with the movement.
Time to Vote advertises itself as an “impartial effort for companies that want to contribute to the cultural change necessary to increase voter turnout in our country’s elections”. Over 700 companies have joined the organization, including Bank of America, Nike, Discovery, and ViacomCBS, according to Time to Vote’s website.
The For the People Act was recently passed by the Democratic House and is under scrutiny in the equally divided Senate. Brennan Center experts say it would “curb electoral repression and make it easier for all Americans to register, vote and cast a vote. It would ban partisan walking in congressional districts.”
A When We All Vote representative declined to comment.
Corporations are also trying to sign a letter to Congressional lawmakers seeking to endorse the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, according to a person directly involved in the planning. If introduced and later passed, the law would help limit voting restrictions.
Both laws face great opportunities in the Senate.
Companies that have indicated their willingness to sign the letter in support of the voting rights law include payment company PayPal, tech giant Salesforce, and candy and pet food company Mars.
These companies have not returned requests for comments.