Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday issued a warning to companies that speak out politically after dozens of executives denounced Georgia's new restrictive voting laws.
Speaking in Kentucky, the GOP leader said he still wants companies to give freely to political campaigns, but said that companies could face consequences for taking positions on partisan issues.
"It's quite stupid to jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue," he told reporters.
"Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly and we like baseball," he said. "It’s irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans."
But Leslie A. Brun, the lead independent director of Lake Success-based Broadridge Financial Solutions and pharmaceutical giant Merck, based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, said in an interview that access to the ballot box is a "fundamental right."
Speaking on CNBC Monday, Brun said that while businesses should not get enmeshed into partisan issues, laws that limit access to any group of voters transcend politics.
Seventy-two black executives signed an open letter published in a New York Times ad last week and Major League Baseball has moved its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver's Coors Field in opposition to Georgia's new election law.
The law also has been denounced by the chief executives of Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, both based in Atlanta.
The colorful language from the typically reserved McConnell points to a dilemma for the Republican Party in the post-Trump era.
Many Trump-styled lawmakers are bucking big business and leaning more heavily into the populist, working-class themes championed by the former president — even as they rely on deep-pocketed business donors to fuel their political campaigns.
By wading into the debate, McConnell is situating himself in the emerging culture wars with the progressive groups that are pressuring business not to sit silently on voting rights, gun violence and other big issues before Congress.
Congress will take center stage in many of these battles, the Senate in particular, as President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and other priorities head for votes.
"They have the right to participate in the political process," McConnell told reporters. But he said, "If I were running a major corporation, I'd stay out of politics."
With Ken Schachter