Voting rights groups in Texas are asking corporations to apply pressure on lawmakers to fight Republican bills that would inhibit voter access.
During a call with reporters Tuesday, the groups called on corporations to stop political contributions to lawmakers who vote for the slew of voting bills moving through the Legislature.
Several bills — including House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7 — would impose new criminal penalties related to voting. They also create more rules for voters who need assistance at the polls and limit what local election officials can do to expand access to the ballot in their counties.
Charlie Bonner, a spokesperson with MOVE Texas, said the bills are racist and amount to “voter suppression.” He said corporations should do what they can to stop them.
“You cannot sit on the sidelines,” he said. “You are either defending voting rights or you support voter suppression.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fervent supporter of the bills, took issue with these characterizations Tuesday. He said the bills don’t scale back any major forms of voting in the state.
“Nothing has changed for mail-in ballots, Election Day or early voting,” he said. “And anyone who says different is lying to you.”
In the past several days, however, major corporations such as American Airlines and Dell Technologies have come out against the measures. Dell CEO Michael Dell said in a statement that the bills amount to “unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote.”
Corporations have condemned voting legislation that passed last month in Georgia, but only after the measures passed. Republican lawmakers who pushed for the legislation reportedly received millions in corporate donations in recent years.
Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matters in Georgia, said his group is applying lessons learned in his state to what is happening in Texas. He said “strong words” from companies like American Airlines and Dell need to be meet with “strong actions,” which include no longer giving political contributions to Republicans who vote for these voting bills.
Albright said Texas-based companies like AT&T also need to start speaking out. So far, the company has not issued a statement on Texas’ bills.
“If AT&T can convince folks to upgrade a phone every few months,” Albright said, “certainly they can convince them that voter suppression is bad.”
The newsletter Popular Information reported recently that in the last couple years AT&T has donated $574,500 to Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick, as well as the sponsors of Texas’ voter suppression bills.
LaTosha Brown, who also co-founded Black Voters Matters, said all members of American society should defend democracy — and that includes businesses.
“Fundamentally when we are talking about community we are talking about businesses, organizations — we are talking about individuals,” she said. “If we are to have a robust and effective democracy that is going to take every aspect of our society to support that.”
But Republican state leaders say companies should stay out of this fight.
During a news conference Tuesday, Patrick said companies should “stick to” financial, regulatory and tax issues. He also had a pointed message for CEOs who are planning to take a position on Republican bills.
“You’ve meddled in a lot of issues lately,” he said. “Stay out of things you don’t know anything about. And if you want to get involved then you are taking that risk.”
Former Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke called it “a little ironic” that Republicans are telling corporations to stay out of politics after supporting the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the door for massive corporate spending in elections.
“And here you have some responsible corporations trying to ensure that this state does the right thing and all of a sudden Dan Patrick and others are up in arms,” he said.
O’Rourke also accused Republicans of using unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud to “distract” voters from their failures during the winter storm this year, as well as their failures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s no wonder that they are trying to distract us and have us focus on a problem that doesn’t exist and belittle and demean these corporations that have stood up to do the right thing,” he said.