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OPINION

Big business has no business weighing in

By CYNTHIA M. ALLEN | Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram | Published: June 18, 2019

In early 2017, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opened the legislative session by prioritizing a measure that would have required people in Texas to use the bathroom of their biological sex in public schools and state and local government facilities.

The bill was controversial. It enjoyed a surprising amount of public support. And it failed, as I believe it should have.

I wrote at the time that it was unnecessary and antagonistic. The Obama administration, which had made pushing controversial progressive social policies a mission during its waning years, was on its way out, and Republicans at the state and national level would be better served pursuing a more productive agenda — strengthening protections of religious freedom, for example.

But one of the most convincing arguments against the bill — the one that probably tipped the scales — was that the law would damage the Texas economy. If the bill passed, the state would be perceived as bigoted, and companies that would be otherwise attracted to the economic environment would elect to take their business elsewhere. The Texas Association of Business estimated the legislation could cost the Lone Star State between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs.

At the time, I found that argument compelling, especially when used to oppose a piece of legislation that would in practice be impossible to enforce and in reality would have very little discernible effect on the health and safety of Texans. But the undue influence of the corporate world — through threat of boycott and economic blackmail — to disrupt the democratic process has accelerated. And it’s starting to make me angry.

As commentary editor Tim Carney explains in The Washington Examiner, big business has been teaming up with the political left in a coordinated assault against views it considers unacceptable. And in nearly every case, this powerful coalition seeks to strangle and quash perspectives that are — no surprise — conservative.

Freedom of conscience. Restrictions on abortion. Issues that divide the country, that are often complex and nuanced and should be addressed through an open and transparent democratic process, deserve no such hearing in the eyes of this unholy alliance.

Big businesses joined Democrats in declaring “it unacceptable for states to even allow individual small businessmen the freedom of conscience,” writes Carney, referring to the Supreme Court case involving a Colorado baker who didn’t want to make a specialty cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Major companies such as Disney, NBC Universal and Netflix are threatening to boycott Georgia if the state’s new law restricting abortion goes into effect. “These incredibly powerful firms have concluded that the pro-life position is beyond the bounds of acceptable debate,” Carney continues. Indeed, these corporate leaders have determined that they are America’s moral compass.

This past week, executives from 180 large corporations joined forces to rebuke anti-abortion measures in state legislatures around the country by issuing a joint statement under the odd title “Don’t Ban Equality.” If it’s about workplace equality, why aren’t they threatening bans of states that fail to provide paid maternity leave?

Liberals have complained in the past that business has unfettered power to exert influence in politics. It was the left that railed against the Supreme Court decisions in the Citizens United case, which broadened corporate speech protections. Yet those on the left are very happy to join big business in its efforts to exert economic harm on states that pass laws with which they disagree.

Which brings us to a second irony: that the business world appears blissfully unfazed that half of the country — presumably half of their employees and clientele, as well — do not agree with positions adopted by corporate America. Abortion is no exception. And for all their self-righteous condescension, big businesses seem unconcerned that the negative effects of their boycotts and other economic tactics will fall disproportionately on poor and minority populations of the states they target.

Corporate America is no longer in the pocket of “country club” Republicans. It’s on board with the “woke” left.

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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