Texas political leaders and voting rights groups on Tuesday called on corporations based in the state to stop making campaign contributions to Republican lawmakers, as part of a broader effort to thwart the GOP state legislature’s attempts to pass a radical new round of voting restrictions.
The Texas state Senate last week approved Senate Bill 7, a sweeping legislative package that would place new limits on early voting and prohibit drive-in voting locations ― making the state the latest epicenter of the Republican Party’s nationwide push to curb voting rights. The state House of Representatives is currently considering the bill, as well as another proposal that could allow poll watchers to film voters as they cast ballots. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has lent his support to the broader effort to make it harder for Texans to vote.
Major Texas-based corporations like American Airlines and Dell Technologies have expressed opposition to the bills. In a Tuesday conference call with reporters organized by the Texas Right to Vote coalition, voting rights advocates said they would pressure other big companies to join them, arguing that it’s vital to protect a fundamental tenet of American democracy and basic rights of voters.
“This is the single greatest attack on democracy and the ability to vote in Texas in more than a decade,” said former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who represented an El Paso congressional district from 2013 to 2019. “We still have time. But I want these companies to know: If you fail to act, please know that the very hottest places in Texas will be reserved for those companies that maintain their neutrality in a moment of moral crisis like this one.”
Texas voting groups are mimicking a pressure campaign that began in Georgia, where voting activists pushed corporations like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola to speak out against a newly passed law that limits voting rights. Major League Baseball last week relocated its July All-Star Game from Atlanta amid outcry over the law.
Many of those companies, however, only came out against the Georgia law after it passed. In Texas, Democrats and voting rights groups are attempting to ramp up corporate pressure ahead of the final passage of the legislation.
“What we’re saying to companies... is that at a minimum, you must stop funding those that are pushing these voter suppression bills,” said Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a Georgia-based organization that also advocates for voting rights in a dozen other states.
Albright said the coalition would urge voters to call and email corporations and lawmakers to voice opposition to the bills.
As in Georgia, voting groups have referred to the Texas bills as “Jim Crow 2.0,” because they would disproportionately harm Black and Latino voters across the state. Texas is already considered one of the most restrictive states for voting access in the country. Georgia voting rights groups have filed multiple lawsuits against the new election bill there. Advocates in Texas previously persuaded federal courts to strike down a voter ID law after they proved that it would have a disparate impact on Black and brown voters, and said they would make similar arguments ― to lawmakers, and if necessary, to courts ― about the new legislation.
“This is about race,” said Jane Hamilton of the Barbara Jordan Leadership Institute, a Texas organization that promotes and advocates for Black women’s involvement in politics. “This is not about whether you’re a Democrat or whether you’re a Republican. This is about Black and brown people being able to vote, to exercise our constitutional right.”
Texas Republicans, like their counterparts nationwide, have argued that the bills are necessary to secure the state’s elections and prevent voter fraud after the 2020 elections. But widespread voter fraud did not occur in Texas or anywhere else during last year’s elections, and in reality the bills are part of a widespread GOP push to curtail voting rights ― especially in swing states like Georgia and Arizona, where Republicans lost last year, and in states like Texas, where GOP margins of victory have been shrinking in recent elections.
State lawmakers have introduced at least 361 bills in 47 states that seek to implement new restrictions on voting rights, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Five major pieces of legislation that limit voting rights have already passed, and at least 29 other bills have been approved by a single state legislative chamber, the Brennan Center’s analysis of voting-related legislation found.
Campaigns like this one have worked in Texas before. In 2017, pressure from major businesses helped defeat the Texas GOP’s efforts to pass an anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” which would have barred transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
“This is not futile. This is not shouting into the wind,” said former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who served as secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration. “Your standing up right now can make sure that this legislation does not happen.”
American Airlines, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, last week said it was “strongly opposed” to Senate Bill 7 and “others like it.”
“As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote,” the company said in a statement.
Michael Dell, the CEO of Austin-based computer giant Dell Technologies, criticized House Bill 6, the Texas House GOP bill, on Twitter last week.
On Tuesday’s call, O’Rourke and other voting rights advocates also named AT&T, Frito-Lay, Toyota and Pepsi as companies that need to pressure Republicans or stop contributing to them until the push to limit voting rights is ended.
“We believe the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said in a statement provided to HuffPost.
The statement said that while “election laws are complicated, not our company’s expertise and ultimately the responsibility of elected officials,” Stankey and AT&T felt they “have a responsibility to engage,” and that the company would work with other businesses “to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote.”
Stankey also said the company supports a statement in favor of voting rights issued by the Business Roundtable, of which AT&T is a member, and said that “easily accessible and secure voting is not only a precious right and responsibility, it’s the single best way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.”
Southwest Airlines, which like AT&T is headquartered in Dallas, said in a recent statement that “the right to vote is foundational to our democracy and a right coveted by all,” but did not specifically cite the proposed bills.
Toyota and PepsiCo Frito-Lay did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Multiple voting rights advocates said during the call with reporters that they believe those companies have not gone far enough in opposing the Texas legislation.
“Not only are we asking for you to make statements, but we need you to move beyond talking the talk to walking the walk,” Rev. Frederick Haynes, the pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, said. “Do not say on one hand that you are against voter suppression, but with the other hand fund the very Republicans and the very people who are engaged in these voter suppression tactics.”
Republicans in Texas and elsewhere have pushed back against corporate opposition to their plans, telling business leaders to stay out of politics and threatening to enact policies they say would raise taxes on or otherwise hurt businesses like Major League Baseball. This week, Gov. Abbott canceled a scheduled appearance at a Texas Rangers game after MLB moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the Georgia law.
“You keep meddling in issues... and you’re turning off 50% or more of your potential customers,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said Tuesday morning. “You have a right to your opinion, but read the damn bill.”
But the pressure on Texas’ biggest companies shows no signs of stopping. On Thursday, several of the state’s biggest voting rights groups plan to stage a protest in Dallas calling on AT&T to speak out.
And if the GOP continues to pursue new voter restrictions in Michigan, Arizona and other states, similar corporate pressure campaigns are likely to follow.
“These are national companies and global companies, and we need them to speak out also about what’s taking place in the other states, to speak out in support of voting rights,” Albright, of Black Voters Matter, said during Tuesday’s call. “In other words, to show support for those in their state that work in their companies, work in their factories, as well as us, as their consumers. That’s what we’re demanding. That’s what corporate accountability looks like.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.