Liberal activists are successfully using pressure campaigns and boycotts to pull corporate America to the left.
From gun control to climate change to same-sex marriage, a number of Fortune 500 giants are falling in line with liberal priorities and bolstering agenda items that Democrats have been unable to move through Congress.
“It’s quite obvious that corporations have a major influence on these issues given their economic prominence, given the relationship that most everybody has with major brands,” said Brant Olson, the campaign director at the climate group Forecast the Facts.
“What’s I think more significant is that we have companies now that are seeing that their responsibility doesn’t just end with the bottom line. That there actually is a need to, and that their customers are responding to — companies that stand for something more than profit.”
After months of pressure from Forecast the Facts and other groups, major Silicon Valley companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo announced last week that they had left or were planning to leave the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
“Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the time.
ALEC is “just literally lying” about the issue, Schmidt said, a charge the group strongly denied.
The exodus from ALEC was just the latest victory for activists who have targeted corporate behavior.
Moms Demand Action, an advocacy campaign that is part of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) Everytown for Gun Safety effort, has managed to convince major chains including Target, Starbucks, Panera Bread and Chipotle to ask that customers not bring guns into their stores.
Though efforts to pass gun control legislation have failed in Congress, founder Shannon Watts said the corporate push makes sure that the issue stays at the forefront of the public debate.
“All of these things are interrelated and it’s all about building momentum that’s ultimately about getting Congress to do the right thing,” she told The Hill. “And it also changes our country’s culture of gun violence.”
“What businesses decide to do impacts legislators, and what legislators decide to do impacts businesses,” Watts added.
As a case in point, a trio of Senate Democrats on Tuesday called on grocery store chain Kroger — the latest target of Watts’s campaign — to follow other companies’ lead and ban the open carry of guns from its stores.
The move would send “an important message about your commitment to the safety of your employees and customers,” Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding MORE (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to company CEO W. Rodney McMullen.
Democrats in Congress have also fired off letters to retailers and drugstores asking them to follow the lead of CVS, which earlier this year banned cigarette sales in its stores.
Some of the pressure campaigns have been building up for years, while others are more recent.
Earlier this year, former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stepped down after just a week at the top of the Web giant, amid an uproar over a $1,000 donation he made to California’s 2008 initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the state.
Progressive groups also succeeded in pushing Chick-fil-A to stop funneling money to organizations opposed to same-sex marriage and convinced the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to restore ties with Planned Parenthood after a brief split.
Conservative activists have mounted pressure efforts of their own, but their campaigns are often reacting, staged in support of businesses that are under fire from the left.
Of late, the campaigns have centered on support for Hobby Lobby, the chain craft store that successfully challenged ObamaCare’s mandate that companies include contraception as part of their health insurance coverage.
The right also rallied to the defense of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson late last year after he was suspended by A&E for making anti-gay remarks.
When conservatives have waged proactive campaigns, they have seen mixed success.
Groups including the American Family Association and One Million Moms have convinced several sponsors to pull their support from Cartoon Network show “Black Jesus,” which they call offensive. But calls from former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer to boycott Mozilla over the CEO’s ouster has so far gone nowhere.
The left’s success in channeling outrage could be a sign of the times, activists say.
Corporations have been a target of activists for decades, and were key players in the civil rights struggles half a century ago.
But the rise of the Internet has made them a more alluring target to Web-fluent activists trying to change the country’s culture, according to Boston College Professor Sandra Waddock, who focuses on corporate responsibility.
It’s also made companies more responsive.
“Today they have to be aware of their stakeholders,” she said. “We’re in a context in which a single disgruntled stakeholder can go on Facebook or Twitter or name your platform and put something out there about the company and if it’s found to be true, the company gets damaged,” she said.
“It’s partly a decision to do the right thing,” Waddock added. “It’s partly a decision to do the right thing for the business.”
— This story was updated at 12 p.m.