Defend Black Voters advocates call on Wayne State University Board of Governor to demand companies stop donating to lawmakers who are undermining democracy.
Bryan Barnhill II, a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, is calling on his colleagues to demand that companies with contracts with the school stop supporting lawmakers who are undermining democracy.
Barnhill supports a measure proposed by Defend Black Voters that would discourage companies from donating to state legislators who push for restrictions on voting and spread lies about election fraud.
“I ran for the Wayne State Board of Governors in 2018, because this is an institution that matters to my community. By serving this great institution, I serve my people.” Barnhill said in a statement. “What I didn’t become a governor for is to stand idly by while Wayne State dollars fund the extremist politicians trying to make it harder for my community to vote. I can’t be silent on this.”
Voting rights advocates urged the board
on Friday to adopt the measure.
One of the companies with a big Wayne State contract is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which contributed about $329,000
to politicians who pushed for “Jim Crow-style voter suppression” in Michigan since 2016, according to the Defend Black Voters Coalition. During the same period, BCBSM donated $355,000 to the party committees supporting these lawmakers.
The analysis found that BCBSM is the “largest corporate contributor to the legislators pushing extreme legislation that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters of color.”
Despite this, in April 2021, the health insurance giant was among three dozen major Michigan-based employers that called on lawmakers to stop trying to restrict voting access.
“Now, more than ever, is the time that we elevate our nation’s interest over our own individual and corporate ones,” Barnhill said. “Now is the time to harmonize our actions with our values. As individuals, this means organizing against those who support anti-democratic, anti-civil rights legislation. As corporations, this means not supporting politicians who betray our nation’s most cherished principles. I call on everyone, Democrat and Republican, and every institution, including Wayne State, to do the same."
Since the 2020 presidential election, the Republican-led state House and Senate have introduced dozens of bills
that would restrict voting access in Michigan. To justify the restrictions, the lawmakers peddled baseless conspiracy theories about voting fraud, eroding residents’ faith in elections.
“This thinly-veiled effort, which the legislature could vote on by the end of the year, uses the Big Lie as an excuse to push a set of voter restrictions designed to make it disproportionately harder for Black and low-income Michiganders to exercise their freedom to vote,” Scott Holiday, political director for Detroit Action, said during Friday's meeting. “In December 2021, we asked the six largest corporate funders of the extremist Michigan state lawmakers backing voter suppression to back up their publicly stated positions on voting rights and racial justice. Those corporations include two major vendors for Wayne State: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Delta Dental of Michigan.”
Barnhill’s proposal is similar to one approved by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners in July.
Last month, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees considered a similar proposal
but tabled the measure after state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey threatened to pull funding from public universities.
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