Hundreds of Companies, CEOs Band Together on Voting Access

Hundreds of business leaders and companies, including


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com Inc. and

Netflix Inc.,

NFLX -7.40%

signed a new statement to “defend the right to vote and oppose any discriminatory legislation,” the latest corporate response to a wave of Republican-led voting bills being advanced in dozens of states.

More than 300 companies, CEOs and other executives signed on to the statement, which appeared as an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other publications Wednesday. The ad was organized by

Kenneth Chenault,

the former chief executive of

American Express Co.

, and

Kenneth Frazier,

CEO of


& Co.

“There is overwhelming support in corporate America for this principle of voting rights,” Mr. Chenault said. “The right to vote is fundamental to America. It is not a partisan issue.”

The statement doesn’t directly address specific voting legislation, nor does it call on companies to take business action or halt political donations to lawmakers supporting such bills.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett signed the statement.


Nati Harnik/Associated Press

“Clearly, we’re not being prescriptive about how people manifest their opposition,” Mr. Chenault said. “Who in their right mind would say that they want legislation that will limit people’s ability to vote?”

It remains to be seen what effect the statement will have, if any, if bills similar to the one that passed last month in Georgia come to the fore in other statehouses. In Georgia, some civil rights activists and company employees pushed for action much greater than that suggested in today’s letter.

The ad, which was also signed by

Warren Buffett,

BlackRock Inc.


Larry Fink


Citigroup Inc.


Jane Fraser,

was paid for by Messrs. Chenault and Frazier, the Black Economic Alliance and several other business leaders including former

Xerox Holdings Corp.


Ursula Burns,


CEO Ken Jacobs and General Catalyst co-founders

Joel Cutler


David Fialkow.

Citigroup Inc. CEO Jane Fraser put her name to the statement.


Emily Assiran for The Wall Street Journal

In addition to corporations and business executives, scores of law firms, nonprofit leaders, academics and celebrities also signed the ad.

Delta Air Lines

DAL 2.81%


Coca-Cola Co.

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didn’t sign; they had condemned a GOP voting law that passed last month in their home state of Georgia and received backlash from some for doing so and from others for not publicly opposing it sooner. Nor did

Home Depot Inc.

HD 0.61%


United Parcel Service Inc.,

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also based in Atlanta, which issued more muted responses to the Georgia voting law.

As new voting legislation becomes a central plank in the agendas of both political parties, corporations are getting into the debate from all sides. On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged senators to oppose a sweeping Democratic-backed voting-overhaul bill, saying it would impose onerous restrictions on political advocacy by corporations and other associations.

Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns helped pay for the advertisement.


Paul Marotta/Getty Images for MIT Solve

The letter from the Washington-based chamber, which advocates for large and small businesses, also criticized what it called partisan efforts to change voting rules at the state and federal levels.

“Partisan changes, irrespective of which party pursues them, erode trust,”

Neil Bradley,

the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in an interview. “The only way for people to have confidence is if you go through the process of getting both sides bought in,” he said.

As some U.S. companies become more vocal about the legislation, they also risk a backlash from lawmakers, consumers and others. Republican lawmakers have expressed their frustration with executives, accusing them of misrepresenting the voting bills or acting as a shadow government. Some progressive activists have said companies haven’t gone far enough, or have only spoken out after facing pressure from employees and consumers.

Mr. Chenault said some companies feared signing the latest statement, concerned about upsetting customers or others.

The statement calls voting the ‘most basic and fundamental right,’ one it notes has been denied to many throughout the nation’s history.


michael reynolds/EPA/Shutterstock

The statement calls voting the “most basic and fundamental right,” one it notes has been denied to many throughout the nation’s history. “We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Mia Mends,

the Houston-based chief administrative officer of


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a food services and facilities-management giant that signed the statement, wants more of her peers in Texas to speak out against legislative efforts under way in her state. At minimum, Ms. Mends said, she would like the expanded voting access during the 2020 election preserved.

“I would call on our business leaders in Texas, who do have enormous influence—even if they choose to leverage it in discrete ways—to help our elected officials understand what’s at risk,” she said. “The health of our economy depends on the health of the democracy.”

Ms. Mends said companies could also consider withholding political contributions from lawmakers supporting some of the bills under consideration; in the wake of the Capitol riot in January, Sodexo said it would withhold donations from lawmakers who questioned the presidential election’s outcome. But Ms. Mends added that many business leaders fear speaking out because of intense political sensitivities in Texas.

“I’d love to see our leaders in Houston, in Texas, put a stake in the ground. I’m not sure yet, though, that there’s enough impetus,” she said.

U.S. corporate leaders have found themselves increasingly at odds with both the Democratic and Republican parties. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how they find themselves in an uncomfortable position. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said

JPMorgan Chase

& Co. was among the signers of the statement to defend the right to vote and oppose any discriminatory legislation. (Corrected on April 14)

Write to Chip Cutter at [email protected]

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