Corporate leaders on Wednesday did their best to declare that they really do favor voting rights. NBC News reports: “More than 150 companies, including PepsiCo, Amazon and Target, threw their support behind updating the Voting Rights Act in a letter released Wednesday. The signatories, all U.S. employers, urged Congress to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, legislation that would restore a key provision of the 1965 law that was stripped out by the Supreme Court in 2013.”
The letter, however, was silent on the rash of Jim Crow laws pushed by Republicans in state legislatures or on whether they would support some version of H.R. 1. This is totally insufficient. While the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is important, their silence about the ongoing threat of voter suppression and vote manipulation (i.e., the empowerment of partisan players to overturn election results) amounts to enabling these nefarious activities.
Voting rights advocates and the White House should encourage corporations to sign a democracy pledge that would include such concrete items as:
- Supporting the proposed, slimmed-down version of H.R 1/S.R. 1 that Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) offered.
- Making Election Day a paid holiday.
- Helping all their employees register to vote.
- Offering their own business facilities as voting locations.
- Refusing — and actually meaning it this time -- to support any politician at any level of government who promotes the big lie of a stolen election or who sought to overturn the election results in 2020. (That would still leave them free to support scores of Republicans in House, Senate and state elections.)
- Funding public service announcements and lobbying state legislatures in defense of voting rights.
- Making clear that they would consider state voting laws when deciding to locate new operations.
- Refusing to commit advertising dollars to social media platforms that do not follow their own guidelines on election disinformation and hate speech.
Civil rights groups can recognize companies that sign on and allow them to advertise their seal of approval as good corporate citizens. Civil rights groups can also monitor their performance to make certain they are living up to their obligations. Chief executives who do not embrace their civic obligations should expect public pressure. Consumers should know if they are spending their money on products and services that share their values.
Outside civil rights activists, especially Stacey Abrams, should take the lead in drafting the pledge and persuading corporations to sign. However, there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting with the president, followed by a presidential expression of gratitude, to convince corporate leaders to do the right thing. I can almost hear President Biden telling a room full of CEOs, “C’mon folks. Sign the pledge and we all go out to the Rose Garden to show what real patriotism looks like.” There might be no better use of the bully pulpit.