This article was published by Forbes on April 16, 2021.
Major corporations, law firms, executives, nonprofits, and celebrities signed a new statement opposing voting restrictions in a two-page advertisement placed in The New York Times and The Washington Post on Wednesday. Voting rights advocates and civil rights groups argue that the voting legislation advanced by Republicans in several states restricts ballot access and disproportionately affects voters of color. Amazon, Google, Apple, Blackrock, and Starbucks were among the corporations that signed the statement. Warren Buffett, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ariana Grande were among the individuals that also signed on.
Last weekend chief executives and other senior business leaders reportedly met over Zoom to discuss options to push back against the Republican-backed legislation. The options reportedly included pulling donations, relocating events, and refusing to move businesses or jobs to states that pass the restrictive measures. Attendees included Kenneth Chenault, former chief executive of American Express Co., Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments, and Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer, and PGA Tour Superstore.
As business leaders consider appropriate responses to proposed voting legislation, some companies that did not sign Wednesday’s statement previously addressed the restrictive voting laws recently passed in Georgia. Chief executives for Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola voiced strong opposition to the laws, which imposes new restrictions on voting by mail and includes greater legislative control over how elections are run. Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of Georgia. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that moving the All-Star Game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and that the decision was made after consulting teams, former and current players, the MLB Players Association, and The Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 150 Black active and former MLB players.
Georgia’s restrictive voting laws, and similar restrictive voting laws proposed around the country, follow historic voter turnout and increased mail-in voting in the 2020 elections. The laws also piggyback on false claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that the election was fraudulent. Republican-controlled state legislatures are selling their restrictive voting laws as measures that ensure election integrity and eliminate potential fraud. However, critics describe them as voter suppression tactics that make it more difficult for minorities, particularly people of color, to vote.
MLB’s decision to move its All-Star Game was not surprising. Sports leagues have previously moved events out of states that pass controversial legislation. In 2016, the National Basketball Association pulled its All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, because of a state law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms associated with their birth gender. In addition, during the past several years sports leagues, teams and, in particular, individual athletes have played highly impactful roles on social justice issues, promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections, and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity. NBA players, for example, were influential in convincing team owners to use arenas for early voting and election day voting in 2020.
The entertainment industry has also announced plans to move events out of Georgia. On April 12, actor Will Smith and the director Antoine Fuqua announced that they were pulling their upcoming film production “Emancipation” out of Georgia, which offers generous tax incentives to Hollywood productions and has become a hub for industry studios. “Emancipation” is the first major production to cite the law as a reason to leave the state. Other entertainment industry members have publicly slammed Georgia’s voting laws and encouraged the Department of Justice to get involved.
Amid the backlash to Georgia’s laws, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reportedly sent a letter to Hollywood studios, including Netflix, Disney, and Warner Bros. In the letter, Governor Murphy condemned Georgia’s election law and attempted to sell the studios on New Jersey’s equally generous tax incentives for film projects and studios. “Our new $14.5 billion economic incentive package makes the Garden State just as competitive as Georgia to attract film and television production businesses,” Murphy wrote in his letter.
As state legislators continue to advance restrictive voting laws throughout the country, pressure will increase on business leaders to respond forcefully with action. It is now customary for businesses, executives, celebrities, and athletes to take active and public positions on political and social issues of consequence. Given the potential impact of restrictive voting laws, the recent public outcry and limited action to date is likely only the beginning of this fight.