An inside view from Washington
Corporate America is leading
a rising tide of political activism,
leaning left instead of right?
IT’S unmistakably true. It started already a few years
ago, in 2016, when PayPal canceled plans to open a
global operations center in North Carolina in response
to a law restricting transgender bathroom
rights. In 2018, after the mass school shooting in
Florida, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods voluntarily
raised the age for gun sales despite NRA
opposition. American companies then increasingly
backed changes to address climate change, even at
a cost to their own business. These weren’t only
words; they were real actions.
In 2021 the trend mushroomed. On January 6th,
as the siege on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington,
D.C. was underway, the National Association
of Manufacturers condemned those who supported
it and called for President Trump’s immediate
removal from office. A few months later, in response
to several U.S. state’s new requirements to
restrict voting, major corporations denounced the
laws as designed to impede minority voters. More
than 100 business leaders then participated in an
online meeting to discuss what actions they should
take for similar anti-voting bills being considered
across the country.
When the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder
trial was announced, many American companies
made public statements in support of the Black Lives
Matter movement and in favor of stronger steps to
end racial discrimination of all types. These were
not typical corporate political issues like taxes or
pollution controls. These were strong moral stances
about potentially controversial political views
expressed in clear and certain terms.
American companies, big and small, are standing
up for American ideals: democracy, justice and equal
treatment. In essence, America’s business community
is demanding that the United States become
better for everyone, not just for business.
Why? And why right now?
Not too long ago it seemed that U.S. business, especially
big business, stood on the opposite side of
such issues. Obscene wealth and a parody 1950s-esque
white values had become commonly accepted
in America. Poorer non-whites and their problems
were nuisances to ignore. What changed that?
It isn’t just a generational thing. Younger people
may be more progressive, or at least more accepting
of diversity than older generations, but the far
right isn’t exactly a geriatric crowd. So it’s not only
age. Some politicians say that U.S. business is caving
in to a mass conspiracy that will rise against
them if they don’t look left-leaning enough. A more
moderate view is that companies are just trying to
“look cool” in the moment with no real intention
to follow up or take action beyond today’s slogans.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, others believe
that corporate America has undergone a spiritual
awakening. They say we are about to enter a new
world of benevolent and moral commerce. That view
naively ignores how the same companies haven’t
said a thing about their medieval labor policies or
that they don’t pay anywhere near their fair share
in taxes. It’s wishful thinking that doing the right
thing will become business-as-usual in the United
States anytime soon.
Tom A. Lippo is a Finnish-speaking American lawyer. Educated at Yale, the University of Jyväskylä and Stanford Law School,
he is the founder of FACT LAW, an international law firm established in 1985. FACT is the first law firm with offices in both
Finland and the United States. Tom has been a lawyer in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill for nearly 40 years.
14 | SAM MAGAZINE 2/21