Republican Split with Big Business Greatly Exaggerated

Look at who's lined up against H.R. 1.

A report in Roll Call headlined “The GOP’s fallout with big business is already mending” makes clear how short-lived the dispute really was and that fears of “wokeness” taking over are greatly exaggerated.

Some of America’s most prominent corporations infuriated Republicans in Congress earlier this month when they protested a Georgia law setting state voting rules. The longtime alliance between the GOP and business seemed on the verge of cracking up. But when it comes to Democrats’ priority bills in Congress, the old allies are still on the same side.

Indeed, corporate America is joining Republicans in opposing both the House-passed voting rights measure, or HR 1, that is Democrats’ answer to the Georgia law, as well as President Joe Biden’s pending infrastructure bill.

I must admit that I had to read that twice. The entire dust-up, short-lived as it was, was over the Republican attempt in Georgia (and elsewhere) to make it harder for Democratic constituencies, particularly Blacks but urban voters more generally, to vote. Yet the corporations who are boycotting Atlanta are working with those same Republicans to block the law trying to rein in voter suppression?


While the spat over the Georgia law embarrassed Republicans, business has not joined Democrats in their proposed solution to that law’s election strictures — the voting rights, campaign finance and ethics bill, known as S 1 in the Senate, that Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer called a “must do” on April 13. 

The same day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, business’s most prominent advocate in Washington, announced that it “strongly opposes” the Democrats’ bill and that it was considering counting votes in favor of it against lawmakers in the group’s annual scorecard. Specifically, Jack Howard, the chamber’s senior vice president of government affairs, in a letter to senators said the bill would impose unacceptable new regulations on companies engaging in electioneering and even lobbying.

Howard echoed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s complaints that the bill would turn the bipartisan Federal Election Commission into a body run by the party of the president, and about a provision that would match small-dollar contributions sixfold with public funds.

So, my instinct is that taxpayer dollars should not go to political candidates. I’m more unsure of the other regulations, as I both believe business owners have the right to engage in political speech and that corporations and other powerful interests have an outsized role in selecting candidates. But this isn’t about principled views on how our polity should work but rather corporations seeking to protect their privileged position.

Now, it strikes me as perfectly reasonable for them to do so. What’s cynical, though, is siding with Republicans, who have lost any presumption of being good-faith actors on this matter, rather than working with Democratic leaders to get rid of the objectionable provisions while keeping the parts of the bill that directly get at the problem of disenfranchisement. Indeed, it’s almost as if the boycotting was just virtue signaling rather than a genuine concern for the rights of Black citizens.

On the flip side, despite the post-Tea Party and, especially, post-Trump populist rhetoric seemingly making the GOP the party of the white working class rather than Wall Street, apparently Wall Street didn’t get the memo.

If companies have gone “woke,” they haven’t yet told their lobbyists. The Business Roundtable, which represents Fortune 500 chief executives, has recently blasted progressives’ push to weaken or eliminate the Senate filibuster. In a statement, the group said that would be “a major shift in the wrong direction” because it would reduce the need for bipartisan legislation and “could lead to unpredictable and unnecessarily erratic fluctuations in major policy.”

The roundtable also opposed Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen’s bid to establish a global minimum tax on corporations to combat competition among nations to lure businesses with low rates, and last month said it was against Biden’s infrastructure plan because its increase in the corporate tax rate would be “counterproductive to the goal of increasing economic growth and job creation.”

The roundtable said it was nonetheless hopeful an infrastructure package would move through Congress, given its support for such investment. By contrast, the National Federation of Independent Business made no such concession. Its president, Brad Close, said simply that it opposed Biden’s plan to raise taxes. Small firms “have been severely harmed by the pandemic and government shutdowns,” Close said, adding that the federation would “remain steadfast in opposing any tax hikes.”

The National Association of Manufacturers put a number on the damage it said Biden’s planned tax increases would cause. “One million jobs would be lost in the first two years, to be exact,” said Timmons, citing a study he commissioned by Rice University economists John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow.

Exactly one million jobs.

Again, business interests have just as much right as labor unions and other competing interests to lobby for favorable policy changes. But, certainly, the public messaging of both big business and the GOP are at odds with what they’re actually doing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    The Atlanta boycott was led by Coca-Cola and MLB. This piece is about the Chamber of Commerce national organization. I’d bet dollars to donuts that neither MLB or Coca-Cola belong to CoC. They certainly don’t control what it does.

    So, the angry words were not to “corporate America”. They were to Coca-Cola and MLB. Corporate America is no more a monolith than a African Americans, Hispanic Americans, or women voters.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Coca-Cola is a member of the Chamber, or at least its Foundation. I doubt MLB is, although they have a page on the Foundation site. But the “big business breaks with Republicans” stories that were streaming out were about more than those two entities–and included reports that there was a dispute with the Chamber itself.

    But fair point on the “monolith” angle.

  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    Serves me right for not looking it up first. Still, if you’re trying to figure out which stance more reflects the views of the corporate leadership of Coca-Cola, I’d take their own statements and actions over that of the CoC.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    I wrote the other day that public-facing, consumer goods and services companies are breaking with the GOP. Older companies, companies not required to get along with the public, not so much. They still just want tax breaks and handouts.

  5. Michael Cain says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Also worth pointing out, I think, that there’s a difference between opposing a law written by a single state and supporting a federal law that will require all 50 states to rewrite their election laws, and in many cases build or modify infrastructure. On short notice, as well: most state legislative sessions are winding up soon, and they won’t be back until January, while HR1 requires (IIRC) most of the changes be effective for the 2022 election.

  6. Kylopod says:

    Any Dem who ever thought corporate America was a sustainable ally was being played for a fool.

  7. just nutha` says:

    Working with the Democrats on the “objectionable parts” would be fine. Sadly, the whole people being able to vote easily thing is probably a big piece of said objectionable parts. And yes, Coca Cola, Delta, whoever ARE just virtue signaling. Why did anyone ever think otherwise?

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kylopod: Well, I rarely disagree with you, and even more rarely challenge you, but it seems to me you are making “corporate america” into a monolith.

    Maybe it’s just shorthand for “corporations will follow their interests, which are primarily financial”. Except that there is a very real difference between Google and Uber. AMD used to do a “bloodletting” every quarter, where they laid of the bottom 10% of its performers. Contrast that with HP in these same years (it’s not the same now), which had very employee-friendly policies.

    The company I worked for in the 90’s – Silicon Graphics, Inc – was very early to support domestic partnerships and in general gay employees. This was in contrast to other companies in the industry at the time, such as IBM (which was still a big deal then, and pretty slow to adapt to changing times in many, many ways).

    But the notion that there’s a “corporate america” or even “silicon valley” erases these very substantive differences.

  9. Nightcrawler says:

    Of course. Businesses always play both sides.

    Jack Daniels stayed in business (and alive) during the Civil War because he sold his whiskey to whichever army was controlling his town at the moment.

    Neither side was going to kill off the guy who provided booze.

  10. Kathy says:

    “Oh, Money, I could never stay mad at you.”

  11. gVOR08 says:

    I see that per Open Secrets business donations now lean Democrat. I would think some caveats are appropriate. Some part of this would simply be backing winners, there’s no point to buying influence with losers, and would switch back if Rs looked like winners. There’s a lot of dark money floating around to who knows where. I’ve seen statements that Ds are mostly financed by “non-transactional” small contribution money, which is inconsistent with what Open Secrets shows. This is money to candidates and party orgs. A lot of money flows to “issues” organizations. Caveats aside, it appears an awful lot of corporate money is going to Ds. Saw an article in POLITICO last week about the conference call with like a hundred CEOs that a Yale business prof put together to talk about the response to the GA law. Claims there was a consensus that Republican divisiveness and chaos is worse for business than taxes.

    I also see a lot of discussion on conservative sites about Republicans going populist and anti-corporate. Maybe they feel they can make it on small contributions and “ideological” money.

    It appears possible that “business”, or at least some part of it, could end up supporting Ds with the GOPs depending on a smaller segment of business, small donors and the big money ideological donors. In that case it seems like we might end up with a centrist, or right center D Party and a reactionary, faux populist, R Party.

    The net effect is that I’m confused, I don’t know where we’re going. To find out, we need to, as someone advised, follow the money. But the money trail is largely hidden.