In the Disney movie Frozen, the snowman Olaf famously said: “Some people are worth melting for.”
But as Disney itself has discovered, extremist legislators are definitely not. All of corporate America needs to learn that lesson.
Like many companies, Disney made campaign contributions to lawmakers in its home state, Florida. For better or worse, that’s standard operating procedure for many businesses — they bank on those relationships coming in handy. And in the past, they have.
But in recent years, the “standard operating procedure” of these statehouses has become anything but standard. Some of the legislators Disney supported went on to pass extreme bills, including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
When Disney’s employees and customers spoke out, the company eventually protested the law and suspended its political contributions. So politicians punished the company, and now Disney has been forced to fight back.
What was Disney’s mistake? The company failed to see what America’s statehouses have become.
As I document in my books Laboratories of Autocracy and Saving Democracy: A User’s Manual, gerrymandering, uncontested elections, and the decline of local journalism have turned these institutions into bastions of unaccountable extremism.
Across the country, dozens of legislatures are attacking democratic rights and principles in session after session. So when companies give to the politicians in these decrepit state legislatures, their dollars attack democracy too.
And at some point, as Disney learned, that will come back to haunt them. When companies with a broad-based customer or employee base support politicians that attack their own constituents, companies end up funding attacks on their own workers and customers.
And when businesses try to walk it back, they’ll be attacked by the very extremists they helped empower.
Professional and trade associations also still engage in the same old political giving — including state Chambers of Commerce, Farm Bureaus, groups of realtors or accountants, and so on.
In my home state of Ohio, one adamantly anti-choice lawmaker proposed a bill that would force doctors to perform a physiologically impossible surgery to “fix” dangerous ectopic pregnancies. And he was endorsed by the Ohio State Medical Association!
As with Disney, this support inevitably backfires.
After the Supreme Court gutted Roe, for example, Ohio companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger announced they would fly employees to other states for abortion care. These are two high-profile members of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which spent millions electing the very candidates who locked in Ohio’s abortion ban.
Meanwhile, many Ohio businesses complain that it’s hard to find educated workers who want to live in the state. Do they wonder why?
These are just a few examples of a big picture truth: a healthy democracy is good for business, and a subverted democracy harms business. So how do we get businesses and business groups at all levels to see that investing in autocracy is bad?
As with everything else in American politics, it starts with you. Every day, we face a simple choice. We can spend and invest our dollars to lift democracy, or we can fund autocracy and extremism.
If you see that a business you frequent is propping up extremists, take your business elsewhere — and tell them why. In case this sounds quaint, the Disney example shows just how powerful that incentive can be when it’s used collectively.
And if you’re in a professional group of some type, be sure that group hears from its own members about the stances they take.
We need to create a new normal: no more supporting anti-democracy extremists. Make it clear that customers, workers, and constituents are watching, acting, and spending their dollars accordingly.