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Economy & Business

The Power Corporations Have In Changing Laws

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Critics say that Georgia's controversial new election law restricts voter access and disproportionately affects people of color. And in protest, Major League Baseball announced today it will relocate the summer's All-Star Game and draft out of Georgia. And under pressure from voting rights advocates, major companies like Delta and Coca-Cola have issued critical statements. Now, Stetson University law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy studies the influence of corporations in lawmaking. Earlier today, I spoke to her about what she found striking about this wave of corporate criticism.

CIARA TORRES-SPELLISCY: One of the things that's remarkable about the new statements from Delta and Coca-Cola is that they have changed positions. A few days ago, they put out pretty tepid criticisms and-or support for the Georgia legislation. And now that the legislation has become law and they've been under pressure from voting rights advocates, they have changed their tune. And that doesn't happen that often.

CORNISH: Let's dig into that a little more because, obviously, corporate America lobbies statehouses, Congress for all kinds of things, right? Can you talk about how aggressive they can be in this area or how reluctant they have been in this area in the past?

TORRES-SPELLISCY: So corporations have two main ways that they influence policy. One is through corporate donations to particular candidates. They then spend even more money lobbying lawmakers to get the policies that they want. Now, most of the policies that a corporation wants are for its own benefit. Now, this is a little bit different because voting rights advocates in Georgia put pressure on corporations not just because they were located in Georgia but also because they had given money to some of the politicians who created this regressive election law in Georgia.

CORNISH: Can you talk about a moment in recent history where we've seen corporate activism lead to significant legislative change?

TORRES-SPELLISCY: I think the biggest example of this was the 2017 tax cut. And the tax cut was literally for corporations. So you had political donors putting enormous pressure on members of Congress, and the corporate tax rate was cut significantly. Another example is bathroom bills. And so by bathroom bills, these are laws at the state level that direct individuals to only use the bathroom of the gender of their birth, and one of these bathroom bills was passed in North Carolina. The NCAA pulled championship games from North Carolina, and that got a lot of attention, and North Carolina rolled back that bathroom bill.

CORNISH: We've been hearing a lot, especially in the last year, about corporate responsibility, so to speak. What are you going to be looking for going forward to see whether this is real or not?

TORRES-SPELLISCY: Well, one of the things that we saw after the riots at the Capitol on January 6 was corporations deciding to pull back corporate PAC money from the Republicans who objected to the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden. But now there is pressure from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the largest trade associations in America. It's also one of the largest dark money political spenders in America. And they are urging their members to get back in the political spending game. So one of the things that I will look at after Georgia and after the riots on January 6 is, do any of these corporations actually change their political spending behavior?

CORNISH: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy is a professor of law at Stetson University in Gulfport, Fla. Thank you so much for your time.

TORRES-SPELLISCY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.