More than 100 corporate leaders joined in a Zoom call on Saturday to discuss ways they could counter new voting regulations that some see as a move to reduce electoral participation.
Their call was convened in response to new rules in Georgia, signed into law by the governor on March 31, which critics say brings back Jim Crow-era restrictions.
Among the most controversial elements are a rule that early voting for some elections cannot be carried out on a Sunday – a move which critics see as an attack on the ‘souls to the polls’ work done by many black-majority churches – and a ban on handing out food and drink to those waiting in line to vote.
Last month 72 black executives signed a letter criticizing Georgia’s bill, which proponents say is intended to make elections more secure.
On Saturday’s call, many senior business leaders spoke out in favor of another letter from many more executives, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor who helped convene the gathering.
Voters are seen in line on October 12 in Decatur, Georgia – a state which passed new voting laws
‘They don’t want wedge issues,’ said Sonnenfeld, speaking to The Wall Street Journal.
‘They just don’t want angry constituencies.
‘It’s not in the interest of business.’
Among the companies who have said they would support moves to condemn the new laws are Pepsi, PayPal and T. Rowe Price, said Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, who organized the black executives’ letter.
Five bills with new voter restrictions have been passed nationwide so far, with 55 restrictive bills in 24 states being considered by legislatures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.
Mellody Hobson, chairwoman of Starbucks’ board, said on the call that political unrest is bad for business, the WSJ reported.
She said that business executives should work together on voting issues.
Mellody Hobson (above) was among the executives to speak out against the new laws
Hobson said the bills had the potential to spark unrest, which was bad for them all
Home Depot founder and NFL owner Arthur Blank said fans expect answers from companies
Arthur Blank, founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team and Atlanta United soccer team, as well as the PGA Tour Superstore, said he believes many sports fans want the groups to make their positions known on voting rights.
Blank said he felt sports fans were expecting more from their teams compared with five years ago, when NFL player Colin Kaepernick first spoke out on racial justice.
Lynn Forester de Rothschild, director of Estee Lauder, said that she was proud to support a statement against limiting voter participation.
Forester de Rothschild is the founder of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, a group that focuses on bridging the wealth divide.
Many of the business leaders on the call did not speak out, and concerns remain about a backlash.
Voters line up in Smyrna, Georgia in October 2020. Two dozen states are considering new bills
Donald Trump has condemned the move by Coca Cola, Major League Baseball, Delta Air Lines, Citigroup, ViacomCBS, UPS and other companies to speak out against Georgia’s bill.
Baseball officials decided to move the All-Star Game this summer from Georgia to Colorado because of the voting bill.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, who plans to sign the new statement, said that many CEOs have told him they do not see the need for laws to tighten voter access.
But, he told The Washington Post, many are fearful of speaking out.
‘There is no more difficult job in America today than leading a public company,’ he said.
‘There are so many stakeholders who have a point of view about what ought to be the priority of your company, and have views that are sometimes diametrically opposed.’