Georgia voting law sparks messy divorce of GOP from big business

The cozy relationship between corporate America and the Republican Party is unraveling after top brands denounced Georgia for enacting a new GOP voting law to satisfy complaints from former President Donald Trump about how the state administers elections.

Criticism from multinational Georgia companies Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, along with Major League Baseball’s decision to retaliate by yanking this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta, is driving a wedge between Republicans and corporations at a time when tensions between the longtime political allies were already raw. Democrats claim Georgia Republicans wrote the law to protect their dwindling power base by restricting access to voting, especially in black precincts — attacks parroted by sectors of the business community.

Republicans are outraged by what they argue are gross mischaracterizations of the Georgia voting law and feel betrayed by corporate America, whose interests they defend in Congress. Having felt targeted for their conservative values for several years, Republicans are cautioning big businesses they believe are increasingly taking orders from the Democrats. The row over Georgia voting reforms threatens their alliance and could leave corporations exposed to tax hikes and tighter regulations from President Joe Biden, GOP lawmakers say.

“Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Monday in a lengthy statement he issued as a stark warning to the business community.

Biden defeated Trump in Georgia by 11,779 votes, making him the first Republican presidential nominee to lose the state in nearly 30 years. Roughly two months later, the Democrats flipped both of Georgia’s Senate seats in a pair of runoff elections. The former president blamed his loss in the state, and elsewhere, on massive, unsubstantiated fraud that denied him a landslide victory while claiming lax ballot security allowed Democrats to rig the Senate runoffs, too.

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Georgia Republicans responded by rewriting state election law in ways they never bothered to when the GOP was rolling to victory after victory in statewide elections, year after year, for a generation.

The new law requires identification for absentee voting, reduces early voting, prohibits giving voters waiting in line water or food if they’re within 150 feet of a polling place, and increases the oversight power of local elections officials. But the statute also makes drop boxes permanent and protected by law and increases access; guarantees more early voting than some stalwart liberal states; and provides resources to eliminate long Election Day lines in urban black neighborhoods.

“It’s not voter suppression,” a veteran Republican lobbyist who advises major corporations said.

This lobbyist said most of his clients are uncomfortable with the public pressure they are receiving from liberal activists to rebuke Georgia, worried about the impact on their brands. But some, at least, are standing pat after learning more about the politically charged law and witnessing blowback from the Right directed at Coca-Cola, Delta, and Major League Baseball. “If corporations are not going to have Republicans’ backs, this is going to get ugly.”

Republicans and big business are natural allies on fiscal and regulatory policy, with both favoring low taxes and minimal industry regulations. In 2017, Trump and a Republican Congress enacted a $1.3 trillion overhaul that reduced the corporate tax rate from 35%, among the world’s highest, to 21%. But on cultural issues, the friction between these two camps has been steadily rising.

That has particularly been the case in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last spring while in the custody of a white Minneapolis officer. Amid protests for social justice, some violent, which roiled the United States in the months afterward, corporate America embraced liberal social policies and increased public opposition to Republican political initiatives in response to pressure from employees and younger consumers.

The decision by social media companies to block some prominent conservatives from their platforms for what critics say was dangerous misinformation but what Republicans refer to as censorship by “Big Tech” had the effect of heightening tensions with corporate America.

Republicans are beginning to fight back, although the small-business community, with which they continue to enjoy friendly relations, is being spared their wrath. After Atlanta was dropped as the host of the All-Star Game, some congressional Republicans announced support for repealing Major League Baseball’s prized federal antitrust exemption. Party insiders say that is only the beginning; that this breakup, a long time coming, will lead to more policy casualties before it’s over.

“There are still Republican leaders who have yet to give up on the corporate community,” GOP strategist Jim Dornan said. “But if big business continues to throw its lot in with woke culture, not only will they lose Republicans — they won’t get Democrats, either. That will spell trouble for them if Republicans capture Congress in 2022.”