‘No Middle Ground’: Black Business Execs Urge Corporate America To Oppose Voting Restrictions

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. Kenneth Frazier (R) speaks as Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson Alex Gorsky (L) listens during an event at the South Court Auditorium of the Eise... WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. Kenneth Frazier (R) speaks as Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson Alex Gorsky (L) listens during an event at the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden announced that the government will purchase 100 million more doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS

A group of 72 Black business leaders are calling on companies to publicly oppose a series of bills being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states that could dramatically curb access to the ballot box. 

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Black corporate executives are rallying around a letter that pushes back on a Georgia law that voting rights advocates have said will make it harder for Black people to vote.

“There is no middle ground here,” Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express and one of the letter’s organizers told the Times. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”

The letter — which urges corporate America to publicly oppose new laws that would restrict the rights of voters  — comes after major Atlanta-based corporations, including Coca-Cola and Home Depot, failed to formally condemn the bills restricting voting rights. 

The letter’s powerhouse group of signers include Roger Ferguson Jr., CEO of TIAA; Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., the co-chief executives of Ariel Investments; Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners; and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for New York City Mayor.

Also among the letter’s long list of supporters were Richard Parsons, a former chairman of Citigroup and chief executive of Time Warner, and Tony West, the chief legal officer at Uber. 

“Georgia is the leading edge of a movement all around this country to restrict voting access,” Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who also led the letter effort, told CNBC in an interview on Wednesday. He called the restrictions “a prototype for a lot of bad laws.”

The debate about Georgia’s overhaul of voting rights has taken center stage in a national debate in recent weeks, with President Joe Biden even weighing in and calling the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” 

The legislation, which was signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R)  late Thursday, introduced tougher voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, restrictions on drop box locations and expanded the legislature’s power over elections.

While voting rights and advocacy groups, including the ACLU and NAACP, have filed a series of lawsuits against the bill in the wake of its passage, a majority of corporations have remained largely mum on the legislation.

Delta Air Lines CEO came forward and issued a memo on Wednesday calling the final bill “unacceptable,” suggesting that it hinged on the premise of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen election.

The group of executives stopped short of calling out specific companies for their inaction, but are asking big corporations to dedicate resources to  fighting voting rights restrictions.

The executives are hoping that big companies will help short circuit dozens of similar bills in other states from being signed into law.

“The Georgia legislature was the first one,” Frazier told the Times. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”

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