Georgia’s corporate giants have found themselves in turbulent waters tacking against the winds and political pressure surrounding Georgia’s freshly-minted law, “Election Integrity Act of 2021.”
Prior to the law being passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, most big corporations didn’t have much to say. Two household-name corporations headquartered in Atlanta—Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola—had issued similar and vague statements about supporting voting rights, but neither company took a position on the proposed law. That might have seemed like the smart move for a corporation: don’t get involved in politics (except for your huge campaign contributions; thanks Citizens United).
But it turns out that one person’s election integrity is another person’s voter suppression. These days, almost everyone has to take sides (and corporations are people, another hat tip to Citizens United!). You’re on one team or the other, but you can’t be on both and you can’t be neutral.
Delta and Coca-Cola found this out when activists, Black business executives, and customers expressed outrage at their tepid statements and began calling for boycotts of those two companies, among others.
Guess what happened next? You guessed it. New statements were released by both Delta and Coca-Cola. And while it may not be crystal clear definitive, I think both these companies may have used the same public relations firm.
“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”Ed Bastian, CEO Delta Air Lines
“I want to be crystal clear. The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it hard for people to vote, not easier.”James Quincey
So crystal clear it is, now that they’ve been pressured. Governor Kemp of Georgia pressured right back, saying the companies didn’t understand the bill and he’d be happy to debate its points with them. In the case of Delta, Kemp admitted that lawmakers had worked with Delta along the way while crafting the bill.
What’s a CEO to do now? They’ve made their crystal clear statements. Do they now close the case and go back to business as usual? Or do they use their power, assets, and influence to overturn the law or possibly put their full weight behind H.R. 1—For the People Act, a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives designed to protect and expand voting rights across the nation. A federal law would negate the “election integrity”/”voter suppression” laws now brewing in dozens of states’ legislatures.
Whatever you do, CEO, stay away from the clichéd phrase “crystal clear.” Come up with your own words at least. Maybe something like, “Folks, I need to get my hands dirty on this one.”