2010's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case had the effect of recognizing groups of people, including business entities such as corporations, as "persons" who enjoy First Amendment protection as if they were individuals.
The ruling not only covered speech as we commonly think of it, but also donations to influence the outcome of political races.
That suited U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and a lot of other conservatives just fine. They knew most of that money would be flowing to their side. So McConnell publicly lauded the court's ruling as "an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights "
But that was a decade ago. Now corporations are increasingly giving public opinions — most recently on legislation seen as disencranchising minority voters in Georgia and Texas — not just doling out donations. And that doesn't set so well.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday companies should stay away from politics — at least on issues unfavorable to Republicans.
"So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics," McConnell said at a Louisville press conference. "It's not what you're designed for. And don't be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America's greatest political debates."
But he was quick to add he wasn't talking about cold hard cash. He still supports corporate contributions.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, too, advised companies to stay out of political debate during a Tuesday interview with FOX News. He didn't say whether he expects companies to keep the cash rolling in. But he did suggest corporations that are against these bills don't really know what's in them.
We think it's more likely they know exactly what's in them and the motivation behind them, and simply disagree they are a positive for democracy and the state's voters.
Traditional, conservative corporate leadership is changing. Some of the biggest companies are led by younger, more socially conscious founders and CEOs. The older crowd got involved in politics when it benefitted them. This new crowd isn't afraid of supporting causes they believe are right, even if it may cost them some customers.
In other word, the days of "put up and shut up" corporate support is on the way out. And the GOP will have to adapt.