05/10/2021

April 11, 2021: Delta and Coca-Cola Caught in Middle of Voting Controversy

Despite their billion dollar balance sheets, large public corporations have the backbone of a jellyfish.  Put enough pressure on them and they will fold like a tent.  I offer into evidence S.B. 202, the voting rights bill passed by the General Assembly this past session and signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and the righteous – and somewhat tardy – indignation of Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola.

Republicans say the changes in our voting laws will ensure secure, accessible and fair elections. Democrats claim the law is aimed at suppressing the vote of minorities.  Pres. Joe Biden called the new law “Jim Crow 2.0” and as a result Major League Baseball moved its All Star game to Denver, which falls in the “who cares?” category. The event was going to cost Cobb County $2 million and claims of a financial boon to the area were  unsubstantiated and based on pie-in-the-sky numbers furnished by MLB. 

Unfortunately, Coca-Cola and Delta can’t just pick up and move and now find themselves in the middle of the controversy.  So far, the bill’s detractors are making the most noise and seem to have the upper hand.  I am still waiting to see how supporters of the law will react.

In my former life I was a member of an organization called The Public Relations Seminar, composed of top communications executives of public corporations.  I was vice president of public relations at BellSouth Corporation at the time.

At one of the meetings I chaired, I invited the head of a San Francisco-based group called the Rainbow Coalition to speak.  As the name of the organization and its location would imply, it was populated by a bunch of gadflies always eager to protest anything they didn’t like.  I took some heat from my colleagues for inviting the guy but it helps to know what the enemy is thinking if you are to get into a public war with them.

What he said to the assemblage was that he could take 12 people and outlast any corporation in America on any issue they chose.  That was because his group would be singularly-focused, loud and proactive.  The companies would be slow to respond, having to worry about the reaction of shareholders, boards of directors (and their own organizations), employees, customers, regulators, politicians – all with differing points of view.

That is exactly what has happened at Delta and Coca-Cola.  It is an incontrovertible fact that a political decision can only be made one of two ways – either with the application of pressure or the absence thereof.  These companies have had pressure applied by groups opposed to the new law.  They had remained mute until the public fire got too hot and then denounced the actions of the governor and General Assembly after the session was over.   Question: Why didn’t they speak up during the session?  Answer: They were waiting to see which way the political wind would blow.

Delta CEO Ed Bastion said, “The final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”  Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey stated that “the Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation.  It makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”   Oh, please. Spare me the self-serving bromides.  They caved into political pressure, pure and simple.  

I would not want to be in the lizard loafers of Delta lobbyist David Werner, who will have to face a group of angry Republican lawmakers next session after they were dissed by his boss and who has likely put the airline’s multimillion-dollar tax break on jet fuel in jeopardy.  (If they lose that tax break, expect Delta to threaten to move its headquarters out of Atlanta.  We may be looking at a major game of “chicken” next session.)

According to the State Ethics Commission’s website, Werner spent $554.56 of the airline’s money during the session on our intrepid public servants, including a box of Biscoff cookies (Value: $25) for Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, president pro tempore of the state senate.   Mr. Werner may want his cookies back.  Miller was one of the authors of S.B. 202.  Evidently, the senator doesn’t have a sweet tooth.

What does all this mean for you?  If you don’t like the new law, you’ve got vocal and focused company.  If you support the law, you need to be in a position to counter the opposition with equal force and effectiveness.  Remember that corporations will fold like a tent under political  pressure.  It simply depends on which side can apply the most.

 

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb