WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has long championed business involvement in politics through campaign contributions, but when it comes to the repudiation of a Georgia law that would in part add voter identification requirements on absentee ballots and curtail the use of ballot drop boxes,​ McConnell wants corporate America to keep quiet. 

What You Need To Know

  • Mitch McConnell warned corporations to "stay out of politics" Tuesday

  • Corporations normally shy away from speaking out about social or political issues, but hundreds have spoken up in the wake of Georgia's new election legislation

  • Major League Baseball took the significant step of moving its All-Star Game out of Atlanta, citing concerns about the new law

  • Nearly 200 CEOs signed the Civic Alliance letter to denounce barriers to voting

"My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics. At least you can get your facts straight before you make a decision about whether to jump in the middle of a political issue," McConnell said at a news conference Tuesday in Louisville. 

He later walked back the comments at a Paducah briefing Wednesday. "I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. My principal complaint is, they didn’t read the darn bill,” McConnell said.

University of Kentucky Political Science Professor Stephen Voss said while it is unusual for groups and CEO's, like the nearly 200 that signed onto a Civic Alliance letter, to denounce barriers to voting, it's not unprecedented. With so many Americans in favor of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, corporations historically sought to make money by aligning themselves with the counter culture.

He said referring to Georgia's Election Integrity Act of 2021 as "Jim Crow 2.0" as many Democrats have is severe, but believes it will have a disparate impact on voters of color. The law also expands early in-person voting.

For corporations, the decision to get involved in this episode is a complicated but calculated choice.

"Corporations are regularly involved in politics when it comes to protecting their own interests. They pour huge sums of money into our electoral system. It’s a little less common for companies to get involved in social and cultural conflicts that extend beyond the bounds of their own business," Voss said.

Some corporations have had success after weighing into cultural debates. Nike’s stock soared following its Colin Kapernick campaign. Kapernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, gained widespread attention in 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem at the start of NFL games in protest of police brutality.​

"One of the main issues we are going to face in the coming Congress is corporate taxes. It’s got to be at the back of the mind of anybody running a corporation that they likely were going to rely on the Republicans to defend their interests in a battle over what the corporate tax rate ultimately will be," he added.

Those studying the fallout over Georgia's voting law suggest Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star game from the Atlanta area to Denver happened so swiftly because these passionate debates have become accelerated in the age of social media.

"It matters to consumers. When we are talking about MLB, it matters to fans, it matters to sponsors," said Sonia Toson, a business law professor at Kennesaw State University in the Atlanta region.

"People are very serious about change and I think that they’ve seen that and I think that’s part of their calculated decision. They’ve seen it politically. They’ve seen it with activism and protests and unrest literally in our streets here in Atlanta and so seeing that, I think that they realize that we really have to make sure that we are making a stand. I believe they think their customers will leave them behind and I don’t know that they are wrong," she added.

Though no Kentucky corporations appear to have signed onto the Civic Alliance letter, many have centered diversity and equity within their organizations in recent years. KFC named its first director of equity and inclusion last year. GE Appliances touted receiving a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the third year in a row in 2020.​