In Georgia on Wednesday — as many people around the U.S. were reeling in shock and sadness at Tuesday's mass shootings at three Atlanta-area spas — state Senate Republicans quietly introduced and fast-tracked a 93-page voter suppression bill. It replaced a two-page bill dealing with absentee voting provisions they had been set to hold hearings on, and it was designed to incorporate other controversial bills that the Legislature had previously passed, as well as to introduce entirely new provisions.
It's all part and parcel of the party's embrace of former President Donald Trump's false narrative that the 2020 election was "stolen" from Republicans because more people, particularly in the formerly red state of Georgia, voted for Democrats and turned the state blue.
But even as the state's Republicans were moving to suppress voter rights, their corporate donors — partly at the behest of many civil rights and activist groups — were calling on them to cease and desist.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce (a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said this month that it will "review" its PAC donations to candidates who are "continuing to push debunked conspiracy theories" and "future conduct that erodes our democratic institutions"), released a statement last month, which it reiterated last week, expressing its concern over the voter suppression efforts.
Now that Republicans have focused on trying to rig elections in their favor, no wonder their donors are losing faith that their donations will be used wisely.
The Georgia-based companies Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Aflac (all of which are big donors) have said they are "aligned" with the chamber's statement, and they came out in favor of voting access. Another Georgia-based company, Delta Air Lines, told CNN that it made no political donations in the state in 2020. It said in a statement, "Ensuring an election system that promotes broad voter participation, equal access to the polls, and fair, secure elections processes are critical to voter confidence and creates an environment that ensures everyone's vote is counted."
Except for Aflac's PAC, which has leaned Republican in federal races in some cycles but shas plit its support more evenly in other races over the years, the PACs for Coca Cola, Home Depot and Delta tend to lean quite heavily Republican — a pattern often repeated on the state level.
And yet the recipients of their largesse are, by and large, defying them this time.
So what is the Republican Party without big business? Well, its elected officials — and their re-election campaigns — are about to start finding out.
After the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol driven by the former president's divisive rhetoric (and despite the anti-regulatory climate he helped foster in Washington) many of the corporations and lobbying groups that typically align themselves with the limited government and pro-business policies of the Republican Party are having difficulty remaining in line. It seems they can't justify donations to support the party and its officials as they increasingly cater to a more populist base at the deliberate expense of a limited government, pro-business platform.
Even as the state's Republicans were moving to suppress voter rights, their corporate donors were calling on them to cease and desist.
It has become increasingly evident, even to those looking only at their companies' bottom lines, that the Republican Party is becoming a threat to the democratic society that has served us so well. It now seeks to perpetuate a dangerous "us vs. them" mentality to keep hold of the votes of those people it sees as its base, and in doing so, it is willing to divide our country and strip away fundamental rights of those it views as "other" — including their right to vote for the elected officials they choose.
The irony is that, as Republicans continue to push falsehoods about stolen elections, they're the ones trying to put systems in place to steal future elections. Fueled by Trump's lawlessness and love of authoritarianism, this dangerous trend of legalized voter suppression — which is coming to a head in Georgia over the next two weeks — could have disastrous ramifications for the future of our democracy and for voting rights all over this country.
As alarming as all of this is, it's not surprising: Trump targeted mail-in ballots and voting rights long before the 2020 election, claiming that if he lost it would be because of fraud. And now, rather than accept his defeat or theirs and chart a new political course or look to the policies that used to attract voters in droves, Republicans have willingly taken up Trump's crusade for voter suppression.
And it's not just Georgia: Already, more than 100 bills have been filed in 28 states to restrict access to the ballot box. Furthermore, the Republican National Committee has already said rolling back mail-in voting — even though many older voters, like Trump himself, typically use it to vote Republican — is a top priority for the party, playing into Trump's planted narrative of a rigged election.
Corporations can't justify donations to support a party increasingly catering to a more populist base at the expense of a limited government, pro-business platform.
So instead of accepting or changing their leaders' failures, lack of a platform, reckless policies or repulsive rhetoric, Republicans have focused on trying to rig elections in their favor. No wonder their donors are losing faith that their donations will be used wisely.
And as Republicans continue to push voter suppression bills, more and more businesses will find themselves under significant pressure from their consumers to abandon their donation strategies, right as Republicans are abandoning the pretense of governing with an eye to limited government or for a pro-business agenda. And since many of those corporations publicly supported social justice and equality initiatives last year — and consumers are now demanding action on those promises — there's increasingly little upside in continuing their historic donations just to help Republicans suppress the voting rights of their customers.
In November we saw what democracy looks like: people driving change. The true power of voting was made crystal clear, as was why elections must be free and fair. So if it takes the power of the purse to keep our democracy intact, so be it. Clearly Republicans feel they don't have to listen to voters alone.