In September, the American Conservative Union sent a “woke congressional leadership pledge” to GOP lawmakers seeking endorsements for leadership posts.
“The first step to earn our support is a new shared strategy to reprimand corporations that have gone woke,” the letter read.
The organization that puts on the annual Republican gathering, the Conservative Political Action Conference, called on lawmakers to punish corporations with “radical left policies” such as paying travel costs for employee abortions, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement or promoting “radical gender theory and gender modification onto our children.”
“With new, conservative majorities, these same corporate woke elitists will be back on Capitol Hill, trying to cozy back up to conservatives,” it warned. “CPAC calls on you to take a stand and not allow this to happen without a renunciation of woke policies.”
The GOP, once the party of big business, has unfriended it.
In recent months, Republicans have intensified their pressure campaign to stop corporate America from taking liberal stands, with punitive measures ranging from boycotts to legislation to shareholder fights.
Now that Republicans have regained control of the House, key conservative figures are threatening political consequences.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kevin McCarthy warn ‘woke’ corporations
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, the favorite to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker when a new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3, has already taken swipes at big business.
He recently told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backed 23 House Democrats in the 2020 election, that he won’t work with its CEO Suzanne Clark and she should be replaced, Axios reported.
The House Republican Study Committee hosted a competing lobbying group, the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, at an official meeting in June.
Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has pledged that corporations that cut off GOP politicians who supported former President Donald Trump’s claims of a “stolen” 2020 election would face congressional investigations.
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“That’s not going to be forgotten,” Greene said on Steve Bannon’s War Room last month. “There are going to be investigations coming.”
A handful of companies that have angered the GOP and are likely to be asked to testify at congressional hearings are retaining law firms with Republican ties to prepare.
“If the Republican party goes back to business as usual, which many will want to, and they say, ‘look we’re in charge now so let’s let the companies all come in, let the Chamber of Commerce come in,’ the companies will never back out of woke,” Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, told USA TODAY.
GOP pressure campaign cause for concern even without ‘red wave’
The threats don’t carry any less weight even though the “red wave” the GOP predicted turned into a trickle. Republicans secured the 218th seat needed to flip the House from Democratic control Wednesday, more than a week after Election Day.
“The GOP has the House, so pressure will be on,” said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth and author of a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, “When Should Your Company Speak Up About a Social Issue?”
Increasingly corporations will have to balance activist investors and employees prodding them to take progressive positions and conservatives punishing them for it, said David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester.
“Corporations are really caught in the middle of the culture wars,” Primo said.
“I firmly believe that most CEOs would much rather not speak out on abortion, they would much rather not have to be taking these positions but they are being put in the middle,” Primo said. “You are kind of in a damned if you, damned if you don’t position in a lot of these cases. The question is: What do you do? I don’t think there are a lot of easy answers here for companies.”
DeSantis leads anti-big business wing of Republican party
The populist wing of the Republican party has given rise to growing anti-big business fervor in recent years, observers say.
The broadside heard around corporate America? When Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized a Florida law limiting what teachers can tell young students about gender and sexuality and Gov. Ron DeSantis stripped the company of a decades-old special tax district.
“We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations,” DeSantis said in a speech after defeating Democratic nominee Charlie Crist in the midterm elections. “We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”
Abhinav Gupta, associate professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, says that kind of heated rhetoric may be just that.
“There are political points to be scored by bashing woke corporations,” he said.
And corporate America will put up with browbeating from the Republican majority if it means lighter regulation and tax cuts, according to Gupta.
“In some ways, corporations have been somewhat emboldened to take more progressive public positions, and I think they are thinking twice about doing that going forward,” he said. “They are adjusting their behaviors and practices to stay out of the fray as much as possible.”