Republicans declare war on corporate America over voting rights

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GOP lawmakers are threatening corporations that oppose Republican voter suppression tactics.

For decades, Republican lawmakers have painted themselves as champions for corporate America, granting companies favorable tax breaks in the name of job creation and working to eliminate corporate campaign spending limits in the name of "free speech."

Yet now that those companies are using their free speech rights to oppose the most extreme elements of the Republican agenda, GOP lawmakers are changing their tune, criticizing corporations that dare to oppose Republican voter suppression tactics and vowing to punish them by stripping them of the very tax breaks the GOP once said were needed to support a booming economy.

The GOP backlash against corporate America began to ramp up when a number of large corporations, including Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Microsoft, and Dell, issued statements opposing voter suppression measures that were signed into law in Georgia and were moving through the Texas Legislature.

The GOP complaints hit a fever pitch after Major League Baseball moved the 2021 All-Star Game, which was set to be held in Georgia, out of the state. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's previous attitude toward corporate involvement in politics included his celebration of the Supreme Court's ruling in January 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that freed companies and other groups to spend unlimited amounts on election campaigns. After the ruling, McConnell said:

For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process. With today’s monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day.

But on Monday, McConnell issued a statement calling information on the measures contained in the new election legislation "absurd disinformation on voting laws" and threatened:

From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government. Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.

The threat followed a vote by Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives on March 31 to strip Delta and other airlines of a tax break on jet fuel as retribution for their opposition to the new law, which requires ID to vote absentee, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, and makes it a crime to give out food and drink to voters waiting in long lines.

South Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan said he wanted to eliminate the exemption from antitrust laws enjoyed by Major League Baseball since 1922 as punishment for moving the All-Star Game, an effort supported by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT). Donald Trump urged an all-out boycott of the sport, but the results a poll conducted by Morning Consult in early April show a majority of baseball fans support the move. 

Some Republicans criticized their party's about-face on corporate rights.

"It's incredible how fast conservatives have talked themselves into embracing retaliatory economic practices. They can't beat the Dems, so they are gonna try beating up job creators. It's so gross," Amanda Carpenter, a Republican pundit and former aide to Cruz, tweeted Tuesday morning. "It's all petty retaliation. Voter restrictions for losing a high-turnout election. Economic restrictions for losing corporate support. The agenda is pure anger over the party's current losing positions."

Some observers have suggested that efforts to use the government to specifically target companies over their speech could run afoul of First Amendment free speech protections and Article 1's prohibition against "bills of attainder," acts of the legislative branch that punish persons without trial.

Thus, if lawmakers pass bills with the sole intention of punish the free speech of businesses, those laws might not survive constitutional challenges.

In the past, the Republican Party and big business have enjoyed a cozy relationship. Through corporate PACs and trade associations, companies have spent millions to elect Republicans to state and federal offices.

In return, congressional Republicans have backed massive corporate tax cuts, pushed to shield businesses from lawsuits filed by workers and consumers, and opposed the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining.

Even many of the companies that are now in the GOP's crosshairs have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Republican lawmakers in the past.

Coca-Cola, through its federal and state political action committees, gave more than $150,000 to GOP candidates and committees in 2020, according to a company disclosure. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines' PAC gave more than $648,000 to Republicans in the 2020 cycle, according to data published by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But following the party's embrace of Trump and the backlash against him after the riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, companies have found themselves left behind by the GOP's metamorphosis into a group that puts protecting Trump above old conservative policies.

They've had their donations to Republicans who amplified Trump's voter fraud lies scrutinized, and now face pressure to speak out against voter suppression tactics that are based upon those lies. 

This is not the first time Republicans have sought to weaponize public policy to retaliate against businesses that upset them.

Last year, Trump and GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed for a repeal of Section 230, part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which would have removed liability protections from internet providers over content posted by third parties. 

They were candid in saying that they were attempting to penalize tech companies for their "censorship" of conservatives, even though businesses like Facebook have given Republican politicians hundreds of thousands of dollars in PAC donations.

The current Republican Party platform presents the GOP as the party of business, noting, "We want to create a business climate that rewards risk and promotes innovation, a learning system that gives Americans the skills needed to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, and an international order that maintains a fair and open global market for America’s goods and services."

It also expressly condemns "public officials who have proposed boycotts against businesses that support traditional marriage" and "any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the public square or limit their ability to promote their ideas."

But their reaction to companies that oppose measures intended to suppress Americans' right to vote — which Ronald Reagan proclaimed "the crown jewel of American liberties" — suggests that their pro-business commitment will waver when companies fail to embrace the demands of right-wing extremism.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.