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BIG-BUSINESS PUSHBACK AGAINST VOTING MEASURES GAINS MOMENTUM

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Big business has ratcheted up its objections to proposals that would make it harder to vote, with several hundred companies and executives signing a new statement opposing “any discrimina­tory legislatio­n.”

The letter, published Wednesday in The New

York Times and The Washington Post, was signed by companies including Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Bank of America, and individual­s such as Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg, plus law firms and nonprofit groups.

It was the largest group yet to join protests against Republican efforts to change election rules in states around the country.

“Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisa­n stand for this most basic and fundamenta­l right of all Americans,” the letter reads. “We all should feel a responsibi­lity to defend the right to vote and oppose any discrimina­tory legislatio­n or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunit­y to cast a ballot.”

Many of the signers have been loyal donors to Republican political campaigns.

The letter is a direct challenge to Republican officials who have pushed for changes in state voting laws, citing former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he lost the November election because of fraud. At the same time, Democrats in Congress propose to overhaul federal voting law in a way that Republican­s argue would interfere with state control of elections and hurt the GOP.

There were some notable absences from Wednesday’s letter, including Walmart, Delta Air Lines and the Coca-cola Co.

A Delta spokeswoma­n declined to comment beyond pointing to a March 31 statement in which CEO Ed Bastian called the Georgia law unacceptab­le. A Coca-cola spokeswoma­n said the company had not seen the letter but that it stands by its support for “free and fair elections.” Walmart CEO Doug Mcmillon has stated that the nation’s largest retailer is against legislatio­n that unnecessar­ily restricts voting rights.

The business community traditiona­lly has steered clear of taking public positions on political or social issues but that has been changing recently, with many of them putting out statements after the police killing of George Floyd last year.

Over the weekend, Yale University management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld helped organize a call with more than 100 corporate executives, academics and legal experts to discuss restrictiv­e voting proposals, including the Georgia law.

They talked about withholdin­g campaign contributi­ons to elected officials who try to restrict voting, and even withholdin­g investment from states that adopt such laws — although the latter seemed to draw less support, he said.

Earlier this month, 72 Black business leaders signed a letter published in the New York Times that urged corporate leaders to publicly oppose laws that restrict voting by Blacks.

This week, the leaders of three dozen major Michigan companies, including General Motors and Ford, objected to Republican-sponsored election bills that would make it harder to vote in Michigan and other states.

Dennis Archer Jr. is the first signature on the statement. The son of a former Detroit mayor who runs a small consulting firm, he knows there’s less risk of backlash for him than for large multinatio­nal companies. But there’s also a risk that Black people and others will stop buying goods from companies that don’t take stands on issues like this.

“I think those companies that take that kind of passive position are really going to feel it in their pocketbook,” said Archer, who is Black.

It remains to be seen whether corporate activism will extend to political donations.

After a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win over Trump, many companies said they would stop contributi­ng to lawmakers voted to reject the outcome of the election or pause all giving to review their donation policies.

The freeze has begun to thaw.

A political action committee controlled by AT&T, which pledged to cut off lawmakers who objected to certifying the election, cut a $5,000 check in February to House Conservati­ves Fund, a leadership PAC led by Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who voted to object to the election results, records show. Jetblue Airways, which said it would pause donations after Jan. 6 — and signed Wednesday’s letter — recently gave $1,000 to New York Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotaki­s, who also voted to object to the election outcome.

Some are donating to committees controlled by party leaders that spend big to boost the chances of all Republican candidates in the House and the Senate.

Most companies have not said whether they will withhold donations from lawmakers who are pushing the new voting laws.

“I’m dubious they will go that far. It’s easy to make political statements and continue to give money,” said Lawrence Glickman, a Cornell University history professor who wrote a book about the influence of business on U.S. politics. “It makes front-page news when Coca Cola,

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