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How companies could quietly put their values to work and transform politics

Call it corporate redistricting: Companies could move employees to where they could redraw electoral maps—and it’s more likely to benefit Democrats.

How companies could quietly put their values to work and transform politics
[Source Images: Matt Anderson Photography/Getty]

CEOs have recently gone beyond their comfort zone of donating money to political parties to supporting specific policy issues. Yet, such titans of industry have selectively chosen which issues to publicly back, likely out of concern that taking an explicit stand on certain issues could hurt their bottom line. So, for example, executives mobilized to stem restrictions to voter laws, while remaining silent on new abortion restrictions.

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Yet there is a way that executives could deepen their political engagement without having to take explicit positions on all political issues. In fact, they could do so without anyone knowing by simply moving.

CEOs are already abandoning pricey cities to decamp for states with lower taxes and regulation. If enough CEOs moved their primarily Democratic workforce out of California, New York, or Washington State to a swing state, that could start to shift electoral majorities on the state and federal level. The same is true for Republican executives. Such “corporate redistricting” is feasible given how close many elections are and how delicate the balance of power is in Congress and the electoral college.

The pandemic has caused some to imagine a post-pandemic world where everyone is a remote worker. Twitter’s boss, Jack Dorsey, has already said that employees can work from home permanently if they want. Yet many executives believe being in the office at least part of each week will still be important. Employees also appreciate the social and career advantages of office life. Where companies plant their flag, or expand their operations, will continue to matter.

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When Jeff Bezos decided to create a second Amazon headquarters, he was showered with goodies from Virginia to attract those 25,000 jobs. But if Bezos had put HQ2 in Maine or South Carolina, he might have—over time—single-handedly nudged the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Beyond transferring possibly thousands of Seattleites and their families, the move would have encouraged contractors and other satellite firms to follow.

Indeed, anchoring tens of thousands of skilled workers in a place can quickly create a new industry ecosystem or enhance an existing one. Apple’s announcement that it is building a new campus in North Carolina will negate the need for a promising local engineer to move to California. Companies can fund university departments to bolster the regional talent pool. Such moves might even democratize who enters a profession. If it seems impossible to recreate a competitor to Silicon Valley, look at North Carolina’s ascendance as the second-largest banking center in the U.S. after New York City.

Many CEOs, of course, enjoy the amenities of the cities they are currently living in. But Austin is also lovely and livable. The Atlantic coastal states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida contend in beauty with Pacific coastal states.

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To be sure, most CEOs of large corporations are Republicans, which would initially suggest that corporate redistricting could be more advantageous to Lincoln’s party. Yet the likelihood that Republican CEOs would purposefully move to blue states is much less feasible than the reverse given Republicans’ philosophical objections to higher taxes and regulation. Further, right-leaning entrepreneurs like Elon Musk who move to Texas might inadvertently be aiding the cause if they transplant a large, skilled Democratic workforce.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez believes that executives in Silicon Valley and New York are concerned with the high cost of living and feel “that they’re not welcome in their cities.” If he’s correct, this could be another factor for why the tool of corporate redistricting will more likely be wielded to the advantage of Democrats. If only a small number of Democratic CEOs in the S&P 500 employed the strategy, it would make a political difference.

Even with the advantage tending toward Democrats, proposing that CEOs engage in corporate redistricting does not suggest that big business will be a reliable Democratic ally on all fronts. For example, Amazon’s drive to deny its workers a union vote in Alabama while decrying the new Georgia voter law was something to behold. In the same vein, if Democrats gain a political advantage through corporate redistricting, it does not prevent them from advocating for new legislation, such as a minimum wage increase, nor encouraging firms to adopt voluntary proposals, such as parity pills, to help low-income workers.

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One of the defining features of corporate redistricting is that if a CEO cares to build a new research center in another state, at least, in part, out of her political leanings, it isn’t worth her being candid about this to the company’s shareholders, employees, or customers. Openness will only anger employees and customers of the other political party. However, she can argue to the company’s board that the decision to go out of state will benefit the corporation on economic grounds in terms of lower wages and more business-friendly legal regimes.

Senator Ted Cruz recently averred to CEOs, “When the time comes that you need help with a tax break or a regulatory change, I hope the Democrats take your calls, because we may not.” With such rise in polarization toward businesses, a tool to further one’s preferred politics in private might be appealing to some executives.

Thus, the stage is set for corporate redistricting to become an important political force. Given the incentive of CEOs to not be transparent about this particular use of their economic power for political purposes, there is value in explicitly acknowledging the possibility of corporate redistricting rather than allowing it to develop in the dark.

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Martin Skladany is a law professor at Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law. His most recent book is Copyright’s Arc (2020).

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