A tale of two election laws: While Georgia saw a corporate backlash, response is muted in Florida

Florida corporations have so far remained silent on the state’s restrictive new vote-by-mail measures…

“Big Business is comfortable with the status quo and doesn’t want to shake the tree,” said one Florida lawmaker.

A tale of two election laws: While Georgia saw a corporate backlash, response is muted in Florida 1

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs controversial voting bill into law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed new voting legislation that changes how people sign up to vote-by-mail.

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Florida corporations have so far remained silent on the state’s restrictive new vote-by-mail measures signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday in a closed door ceremony that only Fox News was allowed to broadcast. 

While several voting rights groups immediately filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new Florida law, there’s been no outcry to boycott Florida’s tourism industry, for instance, or stop eating Publix chicken tender subs.

The muted reaction from corporations in Florida is probably because the changes in election law are viewed as less restrictive compared to Georgia, said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida. 

“This one isn’t as blatant as the one up in Georgia,” he said. Florida is just “tweaking things.” 

Binder said Florida’s changes for mail-in ballots and limitations on use of drop boxes for ballots is “little stuff that makes it more difficult to vote when there had been a trend to make it easier to vote.”

Back story:

But he said the new law doesn’t roll back the number of days for early voting or end early voting sooner before election day. 

He said Georgia’s changes to the law came after it had a special election for two U.S. Senate seats that drew national attention on top of Joe Biden winning Georgia in the presidential election of Donald Trump. 

“They were spotlighted much more heavily than we were, especially with the claims that the election was stolen and that false narrative the Trump people have spouted,” he said. 

Georgia elections law caused turmoil

Reaction was swift when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed that state’s elections overhaul bill imposing new voting restrictions into law on March 25. 

Opponents of the law, which they likened to the Jim Crow laws of a century ago, threatened to boycott Coca-Cola, Delta and other Peachtree State companies if they didn’t take a stand.

Days after the bill’s passage, a group of 72 Black CEOs and presidents of major corporations signed a “Memo to Corporate America: The Fierce Urgency is Now” issued by the Black Economic Alliance condemning the new law. 

A tale of two election laws: While Georgia saw a corporate backlash, response is muted in Florida 2


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Georgia policy expert Kyle Wingfield discusses SB202 and the ramifications of the law on future elections.

Savannah Morning News

“As Black business leaders, we cannot sit silently in the face of this gathering threat to our nation’s democratic values and allow the fundamental right of Americans, to cast their votes for whomever they choose, to be trampled upon yet again,” they said.

Within hours of that corporate call to arms, the CEOs of both Delta and Coca Cola issued statements stating their “crystal clear opposition to the new law. That Friday Major League Baseball withdrew the All-Star game scheduled for the Peach State. 

One of the Black executives who signed that letter was Arnold Donald, the CEO of Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line.

Weeks later, Donald’s name appeared on an ad placed by the Black Economic Alliance and published in the Washington Post, the New York Times and other major U.S. newspapers on April 14. 

“Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy, and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans,” the statement read.

Donald signed both statements as a private individual, not as head of one of the largest cruise lines to have a home port in the U.S.

So far, Donald is a lone voice among Florida CEOs condemning anti-Democratic voter suppression legislation being advanced by GOP-controlled state legislatures across the U.S.

Holland & Knight only Florida presence

The law firm of Holland & Knight was the only Florida corporate presence on the full-page ad in the Washington Post and NY Times. They didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Corporations and CEOs have also been quiet on the state’s bill banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports and the so-called anti-riot bill, unwilling to ruffle the feathers of the lawmakers they give millions in campaign contributions each year to promote their agendas.

“They had a great session, but Big Business is comfortable with the status quo and doesn’t want to shake the tree,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who debated against the voting, anti-protest and transgender bills during session. “They want that inside opportunity to pursue their own agenda.”

Florida businesses got one of the biggest tax breaks in state history, an online sales tax that will help reduce the amount they pay in unemployment. The new tax will raise $1.4 billion to replenish the unemployment trust fund, and then be used to reduce the business rent tax in subsequent years.

Businesses were also able to stop the data privacy bill that was a priority for both Eskamani and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Tarpon Springs. It was resoundingly approved 118-1 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate, it died in returning messages to the House the day before the last day of session.

They also won a victory when the Legislature refused to raise the weekly unemployment benefits. And Disney got a special, last-minute carve-out from the anti-Big Tech de-platforming bill.

“Their silence is grounded in the fact that they don’t want to sacrifice their business agenda,” Eskamani said. “But businesses will suffer from these transphobic, anti-democratic bills and Florida will lose talent. People are already saying they are going to leave Florida because of the legislative leadership.”

Central Florida Democrats singled out the 15 biggest corporate campaign contributors, who collectively donated $6.5 million to Republican candidates in 2020, to get them to oppose the Republican-controlled voting and protest bills, but to no avail. 

Those donors included Walt Disney World, Florida Power & Light, NBC/Universal and Publix.

The USA TODAY Network-Florida reached out to those companies for comment, as well as Darden Restaurants, CSX Railways and the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they did not respond.

“Corporations spend big money to lobby the Legislature for legislative favors and tax breaks,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith, D-Orlando, said. “For many corporations, it’s always been about profits over people and with Gov. DeSantis having a clear record of punishing those who speak out against him, their silence doesn’t surprise me.”

In response to a question from Maria Bartiromo on Fox News Sunday Morning Futures regarding Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver, DeSantis warned that “woke” corporations could face retaliation.

“I guess they have the right to do what they want, but if you’re gonna stick your beak into issues that don’t directly concern you, then I think elected officials are then gonna stick their beak into issues that may not concern them,” DeSantis said.

David Bauerlein is a metro reporter for the Florida Times-Union. Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at jschweers@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

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