Advocates Urge Big Texas Companies To Speak Out Against GOP Voting Bills
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Two big companies in Texas, Dell and American Airlines, have publicly condemned Republican voting bills in that state. Voting rights groups are asking other corporations in Texas to do the same. Advocates there are learning from recent fights over voting measures in Georgia. They want businesses to act before bills are passed. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin reports.
ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Cliff Albright is a co-founder of the organization Black Voters Matter. He's been asking corporations to use their money and marketing power to speak out against legislation that makes it harder for people to vote. Albright's group started this project in Georgia.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Which eventually led some Georgia companies, such as Delta and others, to come out - albeit late - but eventually come out and issue strong statements.
LOPEZ: What he means by late is that these corporate statements came after Republican lawmakers in Georgia had already passed an overhaul that included some voting restrictions. But Albright says this time they're trying to get ahead of measures in Texas. Already one major bill has passed in the Texas Senate. The House is still considering its own proposals. Albright says, before things move along any further, they're asking big Texas-based companies like AT&T to take a stand against the proposed legislation.
ALBRIGHT: And what we're saying to companies like that and to other companies is that, at a minimum, you must, one, stop supporting, stop funding those that are pushing this voter suppression.
LOPEZ: In Texas, Republicans have filed a slew of voting bills that would restrict the ability of local election officials to make voting more convenient. The bills would also create new criminal penalties related to voting. Advocates in Texas say these proposals would ultimately make it harder for people of color, new voters and disabled Texans to vote. Republican state Senator Bryan Hughes, a sponsor of one of the bills, says pushback has been overblown.
BRYAN HUGHES: These are provisions that will apply across the board - every voter. They're consistent. They're fair and make it hard to cheat.
LOPEZ: But Democrats and voting rights advocates say bills like those in Texas and Georgia amount to a concerted attack on democracy. LaTosha Brown, who also co-founded Black Voters Matter, said all members of American society should defend democracy, and that includes businesses.
LATOSHA BROWN: Fundamentally, when we're talking about community, we're talking about businesses. We're talking about organizations. We're talking about individuals. If we are to have a robust and effective democracy, that is going to take every aspect of our society to support that.
LOPEZ: But Republicans across the country and in Texas say corporations should stay out of this fight. Texas' Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick went as far as to warn CEOs that getting involved in this legislative battle could cost them customers.
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DAN PATRICK: You've meddled in a lot of issues lately. I'm not a big believer in boycotts, but people will make up their own minds. Stay out of things you don't know anything about. And if you want to get involved, then you're taking that risk.
LOPEZ: During a call with voting groups, former Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke said it's a little ironic that Republicans are telling corporations to stay out of politics after supporting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the door to massive corporate spending in elections.
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BETO O'ROURKE: And here you have some responsible corporations trying to ensure that this state does the right thing, and all of a sudden, Dan Patrick and others are up in arms.
LOPEZ: Voting rights groups say they're asking a bunch of major Texas companies - including AT&T, Southwest Airlines, Frito-Lay, Valero and Whole Foods - to publicly oppose the Republican voting bills in the state.
For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.
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