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As corporations back voting rights bill, a key question remains

I'm glad more than 150 major U.S. businesses are backing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but how serious are they about helping pass it?


With federal legislation to protect voting rights facing long odds on Capitol Hill, Democrats -- and democrats -- need all the help they can get. With this in mind, NBC News reported yesterday on more than 150 prominent corporations throwing their support behind a key federal bill.

The signatories, all U.S. employers, urged Congress to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, legislation that would restore a key provision of the 1965 law that was stripped out by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would again require jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice to make changes to their elections, using an updated formula to determine those jurisdictions.

"Despite decades of progress, impediments to exercising the right to vote persist in many states, especially for communities of color. We need federal protections to safeguard this fundamental right for all Americans," the joint letter read.

As NBC News' report added, some of the signatories -- PepsiCo, Macy's, Ikea, et al. -- "appear to be taking a stand on voting access and federal voting legislation for the first time," while some of the big businesses -- including Amazon, Patagonia, Cisco, and Target -- have taken public positions like these before.

Indeed, there is a certain familiarity to the circumstances. It was three months ago yesterday when dozens of companies -- including heavyweights such as Amazon, Google, and Starbucks -- signed onto a joint statement against voter-suppression laws, which ran as full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The statement, which stretched across two full pages, "We stand for democracy. We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot."

A week earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demanded that corporate CEOs, concerned about voting rights, "stay out of politics." (The Republican simultaneously suggested that the same CEOs continue to send campaign contributions.)

Evidently, the GOP leader's rhetoric has gone largely ignored.

But as we discussed in April, as notable as the corporate support for voting rights is, what matters more is the follow-through.

Will these companies use their considerable lobbying influence to help advance the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? Are they prepared to curtail contributions to the bill's opponents? Will they make decisions about private-sector investments based on state-level voter-suppression efforts?

On the surface, Republicans care what Corporate America has to say. But just below the surface, depth counts: Republicans' interest in what Corporate America has to say is limited when its perceived as hollow and superficial.

To be sure, it's a good thing to see more than 150 major U.S. businesses throw their backing behind the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It's an important bill that needs and deserves the support.

But if there's no next step, the efforts to undermine democracy will continue apace and Republican opponents of voting rights will remain indifferent to corporate press releases.