Should Corporations Spend Their Money in This Way?
Is this the way shareholders want their corporations to spend their invested dollars? Is it a socially responsible act to lobby against states, like Georgia, that pass so-called “restrictive” voter laws? Or is it a socially irresponsible act taken by CEOs who do not agree with the actions of a state legislature that requires voter ID when requesting or submitting an absentee ballot?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a loosely used term to describe a type of business self-regulation that seeks to hold a corporation socially accountable for its policies and decisions. In today’s socially and politically charged environment, the stakeholders place a premium on corporate activities that benefit society. Is lobbying against voter ID laws one such action?
These questions have been raised because of voting reform passed last month in Georgia that requires all people requesting or submitting an absentee ballot to provide a driver’s license or state-ID card number if they have one. Otherwise, they can confirm their identities through one of several ways including the last four digits of their Social Security number plus their birth date; a utility bill; a bank statement; a paycheck; a government check; or similar government document that includes their name and address.
These are reasonable requirements. After all, if a citizen cannot provide such documentation, then the obvious question is whether they are in the U.S. legally. If we say it does not matter, the message sent is that illegal immigrants can come and vote in U.S. elections. You do not have to be a citizen to do so. You do not have to prove you are here legally.
Corporate opponents of the Georgia law who are members of Civic Alliance, a self-proclaimed nonpartisan business coalition, released a letter on behalf of a group of more than 200 U.S. companies, condemning legislation that restricts “any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.” Companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines signed the letter. The key issue is who is eligible and how do they prove such eligibility.
Doubling down of their support, more than 300 companies, CEOs and other executives signed on to another statement, which appeared as an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, the NY Times and other publications. The statement says in part: "There is overwhelming support in corporate America for this principle of voting rights...The right to vote is fundamental to America. It is not a partisan issue."
I wonder how much money was spent by these corporations for the advertisement. It is just another example of corporate irresponsibility to spend what might have been hundreds of thousands on an advertisement that does nothing for shareholders or to maximize shareholder wealth.
Once again the CEOs misconstrue what are voting rights. Having the right to vote does not mean it is the right thing to do if an individual is in the U.S. illegally. How else will we know without voter ID laws? Voter ID is nothing more than an internal control to ensure that only those citizens who are living in the U.S. legally should vote in our elections.
Not all companies are on board. Walmart sent a note to a group of employees explaining the company’s position: “We are not in the business of partisan politics.” They went to on to clarify that their focus has been on core business issues like tax policy or government regulation. Walmart’s position is eminently responsible because it emphasizes issues that directly affect the bottom-line profits which is, and should be, of most concern to shareholders.
The real culprit here is the cancel culture. By signaling out states that pass so-called voter suppression laws, opponents to such limiting laws seek to pressure state legislators into acting in a way that represents the perceived interests of corporations or else be shunned for their actions. A good example is Major League Baseball that canceled the state of Georgia by moving its All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
The action of MLB does nothing but harm the citizens of Georgia and small businesses that would have benefitted from having the game in Atlanta. It would have helped employment because of the economic effects of having the game in Atlanta. It would have stimulated the economy at a time when most businesses have suffered due to the pandemic.
A lingering question is whether corporations will end their contributions to the politicians who created the law. If not, they could face more sustained boycotts that do not just hurt companies but the people who work for them as well. In other words, the cancel culture might signal out those corporations and make them pay for their failure to speak out against voter restriction laws.
The problem with corporations speaking out about actions of state legislatures that pass undesirable laws is that those very companies may be put under the microscope and legislators might pass laws that are harmful to the interests of those corporations. For example, should legislators withhold support from those companies that fail to have minority representation on their boards of directors? It is an ethical slippery slope and taken to its extreme one group may cancel the other and before we know it, every action is subject to the wrath of the offended group.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on April 26, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.