We were surprised to hear Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warn Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball — and other parts of corporate America — to stay out of politics. The CEOs of Coke and Delta, two of the largest employers in Georgia, spoke out against the state’s recently passed law that critics claim will effectively restrict minority voting.
In what appeared to be orchestrated condemnations, Delta’s CEO said: “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” The statement from Coke’s CEO read, “I want to be crystal clear, the Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.” Major League Baseball went even further, with Commissioner Rob Manfred announcing that, in opposing the law, “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game” from Atlanta to Denver.
McConnell was livid. And he couldn’t seem to appreciate the right of the companies to make such decisions since, as he told reporters, “Republicans drink Coca-Cola, too, and we fly and we like baseball.”
But isn’t that exactly the point? Corporations have the right — just like individuals — to voice their opinions. And they have the right to make business decisions based upon those opinions. In doing so, of course, they run the risk that they may lose business for taking a stance, just as they may lose business for not doing so.
There is nothing particularly unusual about the Georgia-related decisions. These are not the first companies to take a political stand. Nike has famously advocated for social justice through a campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Patagonia takes aggressive positions on environmental issues and seeks to limit bulk purchases of its product by companies that are engaged in active pollution. And, of course, ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, many companies have become involved in promoting various candidates and campaigns through significant financial contributions, public statements or through direct lobbying with their employees.
But there was something especially upsetting about McConnell’s strong words —“My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics” — that betrayed a remarkable hypocrisy, as he followed his “warning” with the addendum: “I’m not talking about political contributions.”
It seems that in McConnell’s eyes, big business needs to steer clear of policy positions he doesn’t like, and just write large checks to support political candidates and campaigns that he does. That’s why we didn’t hear criticism from McConnell when the National Rifle Association and other right-leaning companies spoke out in favor of Republican initiatives. Hypocrisy, indeed.
We support the right of corporate America to speak its mind, and to use its financial muscle to support positions it favors. We don’t have to agree. And if we disagree enough, we can do business with someone else.
That’s the American way. Someone needs to give McConnell a civics lesson.