After the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, the CEOs of a number of corporations made the smart public relations move of distancing themselves from members of Congress who voted to decertify the Electoral College results that confirmed the defeat of Republican Donald Trump and the election of Democrat Joe Biden as the nation’s 46th president. Then, in April, when Georgia Republicans enacted voter suppression measures, many of those same CEOs very publicly objected to assaults on democracy in that state and others
Media headlines portrayed corporations as righteous defenders of democracy:
“America’s Business Community Shows Its Own Disgust Over Capitol Riot,” declared U.S. News & World Report.
Bloomberg announced, “Wall Street Rethinks Campaign Donations in Wake of Violence.”
The Washington Post ruminated on how “[m]ounting corporate opposition to proposed voting restrictions tests long-standing alliance with GOP.”
“Corporate America is wading into the voting rights brawl,” chirped NBC News.
It seemed almost as if the term “corporate responsibility” were ceasing to be an oxymoron.
But, of course, “almost” is the operative word in that last sentence.
Dozens of the largest businesses in the United States continue to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, the shadowy advocacy group that for the better part of 50 years has coordinated the efforts of right-wing legislators to influence policy-making in the states. “ALEC puts partisanship and pay-to-play over principle,” explains Arn Pearson, the executive director on the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group that has, along with The Nation, kept tabs on ALEC for decades. “So it’s no surprise that they have fully embraced the doctrine of racist and undemocratic voter suppression to preserve GOP minority rule.”
Pearson says, “Corporations that are serious about fair elections should publicly denounce ALEC’s voter suppression efforts and quit the organization.”
He’s not alone in that view.
This week, more than 300 voting rights organizations and their allies, including Common Cause, Public Citizen, Fair Fight Action, Color of Change, the AFL-CIO, and the League of Women Voters, demanded that major corporations cut their financial ties with ALEC.
“Faced with public outrage over legislation that creates barriers to voting rights enacted or proposed in more than 47 states, and the bills’ disproportionate impact on people of color, young people, and the elderly, hundreds of companies have publicly denounced any discriminatory legislation that makes it harder for people to vote. Perhaps your company is one of them,” reads the letter that has been sent to Anheuser-Busch, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, CenturyLink, Duke Energy, Eli Lilly, Fed-Ex, Koch Industries, Oracle, Raytheon, Salesforce, State Farm, and other major corporations. “Nonetheless, your participation in ALEC serves to promote and legitimize the group’s anti-democratic efforts to create more barriers to voting.”
ALEC identifies itself as a nonpartisan group, and it famously announced almost a decade ago that it would no longer seek to influence election laws around the country. But the letter from the voting rights groups calls that spin into question. “Despite claiming it would stop working on electoral issues in 2012, ALEC has reengaged on highly controversial policies related to elections and redistricting in recent years, perhaps without your company’s knowledge,” it notes. “In 2019, ALEC created a secret working group on redistricting, ballot measures, and election law, known as the ‘ALEC Political Process Working Group.’”
The letter references internal documents obtained by the watchdog group Documented, as well as studies by the Center for Media and Democracy, which suggest that ALEC and its members are highly engaged with efforts to undermine voting rights and democracy.
Founded in 1973 by conservative activists such as Paul Weyrich—who in 1980 told a gathering of religious-right activists, “I don’t want everybody to vote…our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”—ALEC has generally tried to fly under the radar. Yet it is a large and highly influential organization, which regularly links legislators with representatives of corporations that stand to benefit from moves made by those lawmakers. “Comprised of nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum,” the group brags, “ALEC members represent more than 60 million Americans and provide jobs to more than 30 million people in the United States.”
That may sound benign. But, as Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn reminds us, “ALEC has a long history of rigging the rules against everyday Americans while skirting ethics and tax laws.” And now, she adds, “ALEC…is working behind the scenes to restrict voting rights.”
While corporations may claim that they are engaged with ALEC only because the group advocates lower taxes, reduced regulation, and “free markets,” voting rights activists are tired of excuses.
“We have repeatedly said that corporations must stop funding the elected officials who sponsor and vote for voter suppression, and this demand is equally important in regards to conservative groups and think tanks who fuel the Jim Crow–era approach of creating and replicating racist legislation,” says Cliff Albright, the executive director and cofounder of the group Black Voters Matter. “These companies cannot hide behind the excuse that they only support ALEC because of their pro-business legislation. Companies are complicit if they are creating a pro-business environment by supporting antidemocratic organizations and policies. We will continue to hold them accountable. It will not be business as usual until they stand up for what is right.”