Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned big businesses they would face “serious consequences” after accusing them of employing “economic blackmail” in attempts to influence voting laws as the backlash over Georgia’s elections law that imposes voting restrictions intensifies.
“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement Monday. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”
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“Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box,” he added.
His statement comes after Major League Baseball’s decision to no longer host the All-Star Game in Atlanta, potentially sparking other boycotts of the state, and several businesses including Delta and Coca-Cola condemned the new Georgia elections law following public pressure.
The statements by McConnell are particularly notable not only because he has long championed the involvement of corporate money in politics – a past position he attempted to square with new remarks on Tuesday – but because the Republican Party traditionally has been more sympathetic to big business.
During a news conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Tuesday, McConnell reiterated his warning to corporate America to “stay out of politics” and to not be “intimidated by the left,” blasting the MLB and other corporations’ decision to “jump into the middle of a highly controversial issue” as “stupid.”
McConnell has previously supported businesses involvement in politics, including backing the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which allowed big businesses more power to spend freely in federal elections. In 2014, he spoke out against Democrats’ attempts to allow Congress to set limits on corporate campaign spending in federal elections, calling it a threat to basic speech rights.
Asked about how he squares his support of Citizens United with his call for corporations to stay out of politics in the debate over election laws, McConnell said, “They have a right to participate in the political process. They do.”
“But selecting how you do that in a way that doesn’t completely alienate an awful lot of people who depend on your products strikes me as not very smart,” he said, adding earlier, “Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly, and we like baseball.”
In his statement Monday, McConnell accused Democrats of lying about the Georgia law hastily passed by state Republicans and signed into law last month by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp.
He disputed the claim from President Joe Biden and others that the Georgia voting law is reminiscent or worse than Jim Crow-era laws, arguing that “nobody really thinks this current dispute comes anywhere near the horrific racist brutality of segregation.”
“Our private sector must stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex. Americans do not need or want big business to amplify disinformation or react to every manufactured controversy with frantic left-wing signaling,” McConnell said in his statement, adding that “it’s jaw-dropping to see powerful American institutions not just permit themselves to be bullied, but join in the bullying themselves.”
McConnell also slammed congressional Democrats’ sweeping elections legislation, the “For the People Act,” as a “power grab” of all 50 states’ election laws and the Federal Election Commission that “is impossible to defend, so the left wants to deflect.” The measure, which does not have enough votes in the US Senate to pass, would override many of the restrictive provisions in the new Georgia law and others like it.
The Georgia law imposes voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, allows state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to give or offer voters food and drink as they wait in line to vote.
Republican advocates for the law argue that it makes Georgia’s elections more secure and that it expands access to voting – pointing to the law’s requirement for each county to have a minimum of one drop box for absentee ballots and expansion of early voting in many counties.
The law, however, dramatically reduces some large counties’ number of drop boxes, significantly shortens both the overall length of runoff campaigns and the early voting period for runoff elections and shortens the duration of the absentee voting period.
MLB’s move to relocate the All-Star Game, potentially costing Georgia $100 million in lost economic impact, was the first in response to the state election law. Atlanta Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on CNN Saturday predicted that it would be the “first of many boycotts of our state to come.”
During a news conference Saturday, Kemp vehemently defended the Georgia elections law and said he would not waver or be swayed if Georgia were to lose more events, thus costing the state more business and tourism dollars.
He accused MLB of putting Democrats’ wishes “ahead of the economic well-being of hard-working Georgians who were counting on the All-Star Game for a paycheck.”
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, like other Democrats, said he respected MLB’s decision, but hoped businesses would protest the law not by boycotting the state, but “by coming here and fighting voter suppression head on.”
After the law was passed, some of the nation’s most prominent Black business leaders called out their Fortune 500 peers for their muted response to new laws that restrict voting across the country, and challenged them to be more forceful in condemning what they said were deliberate attempts by Republicans to limit the number of Black Americans casting ballots in key states.
Last week, American Airlines and Dell Technologies spoke out against a Texas elections bill that would place new restrictions on the voting process, particularly for those living in densely populated counties.
At an event in his home state Monday, McConnell said he “found it completely discouraging to find a bunch of corporate CEOs getting in the middle of politics.”
“My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics,” he added.
During his Tuesday event in Louisville, McConnell said he supports CEOs contributing to politicians.
“That’s fine. It’s legal, it’s appropriate. I support that. I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law they passed? I just think it’s stupid,” he said.
Cliff Albright, the co-founder of voting rights group Black Voters Matter Fund, accused McConnell of “hypocrisy.”
“Mitch McConnell and others have demonstrated their hypocrisy on this issue, whether it’s the issue of not wanting businesses to be involved in politics – which is a first for Mitch McConnell – or whether this is an issue of saying, they don’t like ‘canceling’ stuff, although they are on a regular basis, trying to cancel our voting rights,” Albright told reporters during a virtual news conference Tuesday.
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Eric Bradner, Maeve Reston, Dianne Gallagher, Annie Grayer and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.