Many large corporations said, after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, that they would stop campaign contributions to the Republicans who then voted to block the results of the election—only to find a way to make the vow meaningless. Will the corporations now speaking out against voter suppression do the same thing, or will they stand by their support for democracy? It remains an open question, and one that can only have a good answer with continuing public pressure in support of voting rights.
After Georgia Republicans passed a sweeping set of voting restrictions, major Georgia companies like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola condemned the new law, and as Texas Republicans pushed their own set of restrictions, major Texas companies like American Airlines and Dell Technologies got out ahead of things and went public with their opposition. Then Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game and draft out of Georgia. And Republicans went to war with all of them.
Georgia Republicans nearly passed a bill that would have cost Delta tens of millions of dollars in additional taxes—something they did do, albeit temporarily, after Delta stopped giving discounts to NRA members in 2018 following the Parkland school shooting. Then, on Saturday, following the MLB’s All-Star decision, Gov. Brian Kemp unleashed an unsurprising whine about “cancel culture.”
“Georgians and all Americans should know what this decision means. It means cancel culture and partisan activists are coming for your business,” he said. “They’re coming for your game or event in your hometown, and they’re coming to cancel everything from sports to how you make a living, and they will stop at nothing to silence all of us.”
Corporations have spent plenty of money buying access to the state-level Republicans promoting voting rights restrictions—$50 million in recent years, including $22 million in 2020. But we haven’t yet seen the kind of corporate vows to withhold campaign contributions from lawmakers who move to restrict voting rights as corporations made about cutting off funding from the Republican congressional supporters of Donald Trump’s election lies. Since those promises turned out to be wobbly at best and they’re not even being matched now, why would state legislators worry that they will seriously lose out on corporate money?
Republicans, meanwhile, are getting the benefit of having their efforts to restrict the popular vote described as “populist.” As in this gem from The New York Times: “It is a head-spinning new landscape for big companies, which are trying to appease Democrats focused on social justice, as well as populist Republicans who are suddenly unafraid to break ties with business.”
Insofar as the term “populist” originated with a political party that was anti-immigration, and populism has a long racist history, then maybe. But that’s just about the only tie to populism today’s Republicans can seriously claim, which makes the use of the word to describe them really just a way to get around saying “racist.” After all, the original populists also supported direct election of senators and, in some places, expansion of voting rights. To say nothing of collective bargaining and a postal savings system.
So, no. The fact that Republicans are willing to threaten and insult corporations that challenge Republican efforts to restrict voting rights does not make them populist. It just means that staying in power through racist methods ranks, for Republicans, slightly above corporate tax cuts. It means that “owning the libs” on any given day is more important than fundamental principles. Will corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola and American and Dell stick to a “voting rights are good and we oppose legislation suppressing the vote along racial lines” position in a way that will make itself felt to Republican state legislators? One thing we know is that they won’t do it without public pressure.
That means not turning your energy to boycotting Georgia in ways that will end up hurting the areas of the state and voters in those areas that supported President Biden and Sen. Warnock and Sen. Ossoff. It means pressuring companies to put their money where their mouths are. In two years we should not only be able to see those fine statements from these companies decrying voter suppression. We should be able to see a campaign contributions record that backs that up. And if we don’t see that, we should still be focused enough on this issue to demand to know why not, in a way they’ll hear.