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U.S. Chamber Urges Lawmakers to Oppose Democratic-Backing Voting Bill

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4/14/2021 Alexa Corse
a person riding a bicycle in front of a building © Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday urged senators to oppose a sweeping Democratic-backed voting-overhaul bill, saying it would impose onerous restrictions on political advocacy by corporations and other associations.

The Chamber announced it would send a “key vote alert” to senators laying out its opposition to the For the People Act bill and called for bipartisanship in making any voting changes.

“The Chamber believes the ability of Americans to exercise their right to vote in accessible and secure elections and to be able to trust in a free and fair outcome is fundamental to who we are as a nation,” said a draft of the Chamber’s letter reviewed by The Journal. “The Chamber is deeply troubled by efforts at the state and federal level to enact election law changes on a partisan basis.”

The Democrat’s roughly 800-page bill would make many changes to rules regarding voting and campaign finance. Its proposals include requiring every state to offer early in-person voting and voting by mail, loosening requirements for voter ID and creating independent panels to draw voting districts in each state to end partisan gerrymandering. The bill also would restructure the Federal Election Commission in a way that proponents say would make the agency more effective but critics say would turn it into a partisan tool.

The Washington-based Chamber, which advocates for big and small businesses, previously had been against some campaign-finance proposals included in the Democrats’ bill. The letter also criticized what it called partisan efforts to change voting rules, a high-profile political issue in some states where some major corporations have been under pressure to take a stand.

Last month, the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature passed a sweeping law making a number of voting rules changes, prompting Major League Baseball to decide to move this summer’s All-Star Game and amateur draft out of suburban Atlanta. In a recent Zoom call, Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express Co., and Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., urged corporate leaders to collectively call for greater voting access, according to several people who attended.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), the chairwoman of the committee overseeing the bill in the Senate, said in a statement last month that “this bill is essential to protecting every American’s right to vote, getting dark money out of our elections, as well as some very important anticorruption reforms.”

Many Republican-controlled state legislatures are considering efforts to tighten voting rules, saying they would improve election security. Democrats say such proposals would restrict access to voting particularly for minority voters.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has weighed in. Last week, he backed off his previous warning that businesses should stay away from politics. But he reiterated his frustration with some prominent companies’ criticism of Republican-led efforts to pass new election laws.

“Partisan changes, irrespective of which party pursues them, erode trust,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, in an interview. “The only way for people to have confidence is if you go through the process of getting both sides bought in,” he said.

At the national level, Democrats have said minimum standards are needed to protect access to the ballot. Republicans say the federal legislation would represent an overreach and partisan takeover of decisions about voting rules that are typically left up to the states.

The Chamber every year ranks members of Congress for their votes on key business issues. The organization said that it would include any vote related to the For the People Act in its rankings.

The Democrats’ bill is facing a tough battle in the evenly divided Senate after the House version passed 220-210 with no Republican support.

In the letter, the Chamber said that many aspects of the bill are “extremely problematic” and specifically criticized several proposals that the group said would restrict how corporations and associations engage in the political process.

The Chamber also said it opposed what it called the bill’s “onerous disclaimer requirements” for communications mentioning a candidate or elected official.

Another measure in the bill would establish a program to provide federal matching funds for small-dollar contributions for campaigns that follow certain restrictions. The Chamber said that taxpayer money should be used to support projects like infrastructure initiatives and education programs, not political campaigns. Democrats say the program would be financed through a fee on corporations paying penalties and would help new kinds of candidates who tend to get excluded.

“American democracy benefits from the robust participation of its citizens—whether they choose to engage individually at the ballot box or collectively through a party, association, or corporation,” the draft of the letter said. The current bill “would regulate and ultimately silence Americans who choose to petition their government or participate in the political process through the collective action of an association or corporation.”

Write to Alexa Corse at alexa.corse@wsj.com

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