Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to deprive Delta Air Lines of tax relief worth tens of millions of dollars a year. The vote followed the company’s CEO condemning the state’s tough new voting restrictions earlier today.
But it was made symbolic when the state Senate failed to take action before adjourning its annual session.
The steps came after some of Georgia’s top business leaders began to criticize more forcefully the state’s new election law on Wednesday, acknowledging the concerns of civil rights activists, black clergymen and leaders of the state. black companies that say the measure targets non-white voters and threatens Democrats. treat.
Executives at Delta and Coca-Cola pivoted from earlier, more equivocal statements and called the law “unacceptable,” opening an unusual rift with Republican leaders who have championed the legislation and who generally have a warm relationship with the state business community.
The Georgia Business Lobby, home to 18 Fortune 500 companies, wields considerable influence over state policy. Civil rights activists have criticized influential leaders for failing to help pass the new law which has become a focal point in the national and partisan struggle for the right to vote, and there is growing pressure at the national level on corporate titans to defend voting rights more explicitly and oppose Republican efforts in states that might follow Georgia’s lead. The latest statements from Delta and Coca-Cola could push Georgia’s other flagship brands, including UPS and Home Depot, to take a stronger stance.
UPS and Home Depot still haven’t publicly opposed the law.
“Delta’s statement is finally telling the truth – even if it is late,” said Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project, which launched an advertising campaign targeting large corporations.
The new law sparked calls to boycott major Georgia-based companies
After Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed it last week, Delta released a statement promoting parts of the law such as broadening the weekend vote, but said: “We understand that concerns remain about other provisions … and there is still work to be done in this important effort. “
Delta and Coca-Cola become more powerful
General manager Ed Bastian was more direct in a note sent to employees Wednesday.
“The whole rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 election. This is simply not true,” Bastian wrote, alluding to the bogus. statements by former President Trump that he lost to fraud. “Unfortunately, this excuse is being used in states across the country trying to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”
Bastian said that Delta “has joined other large corporations in Atlanta to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try to remove some of the more egregious measures from the bill. We have succeeded in removing the tactics. the most repressive that some had proposed. “
But, he said, “I must make it clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not correspond to Delta’s values.”
Speaking later on CNBC, Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey called the legislation “a step backwards.”
“It does not promote the principles that we have defended in Georgia concerning wide access to the vote, the convenience of the voters, the guarantee of electoral integrity,” he said. “This legislation is wrong and needs to be corrected.”
Kemp insisted the law was twisted. He accused companies of ignoring their role in its development.
“Throughout the legislative process, we have spoken directly with representatives of Delta on numerous occasions,” the governor said in a statement. “Today’s statement … contrasts sharply with our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law and unfortunately continues to propagate the same bogus attacks repeated by partisan activists.”
One of the reasons some of the positions of these companies are important may be that Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot have more diverse boards of directors than the average S&P 500 company. Four of the 15 members of the UPS board are people of color, nearly 30%. A recent study by recruiting firm Spencer Stuart found that in the top 200 companies in the S&P 500 stock index, an average of 10% of their board members were black. Latino directors accounted for an additional 4%.
For Coca-Cola, three of its 12 board members, or 25%, are people of color, while Delta and Home Depot have two out of 12 miscellaneous directors, or 17%.
Voting rights groups continued to fight the legislation and criticize companies for not trying to block it completely.
Ufot berated Bastian for his timing and for alluding to conversations “with leaders and employees of the black community” late in the process. She also noted pending demands from advocates that Delta and other companies no longer use their political action committees to support lawmakers who support voting restrictions.
Bastian’s memo did not address this issue. Quincey noted on CNBC that Coca-Cola, even before Georgia’s action, had already suspended its PAC business and would review politicians’ stance on voting rights as part of future contributions.
Also on Wednesday, dozens of black business executives from across the country, including Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier and former American Express chief executive Kenneth Chenault published a joint letter in The New York Times urging American businesses to stand up forcefully on racial justice issues. .
“The reality is that businesses have been silent on this issue and that’s why we said action needed to be taken,” Chenault told “CBS This Morning” Wednesday.
Black activists, meanwhile, recalled that many U.S. companies took a public stand last summer amid nationwide protests against systemic racism and police violence.
Bishop Reginald Jackson, who presides over more than 400 African Methodist episcopal churches in Georgia, said too many business leaders have been “silent” on the voting laws. He called on his 90,000 parishioners to boycott Delta, Coca-Cola and other big brands.
“It is not just a problem or a Georgia problem. It is a national problem which we believe puts our democracy at risk,” Jackson said.
Business analysts say the momentum is tough for companies.
“Delta clearly felt a lot of warmth for its previous statement. Delta’s problem now is credibility,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco. “Will people believe any future statements or actions by Delta regarding voting rights or social justice?”
Civil rights groups have launched federal lawsuits to overturn Georgian law. Separately, they looked to Washington, where Democrats are pushing for a complete federal overhaul of electoral law that could effectively reverse many of the changes passed in Georgia that are under consideration elsewhere. Advocates want business leaders like Bastian and Quincey to help them.