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CEOs took another step into the battle over voting practices yesterday, with full page advertisements in several newspapers under the headline: “We Stand for Democracy.” The ad avoided explicitly criticizing any of the Republican-sponsored bills in multiple states, or supporting federal legislation backed by Democrats. Instead, its long list of signatories simply said they oppose “any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
Driving this effort are a group of Black CEOs and ex-CEOs including Ken Frazier of Merck; Roger Ferguson, formerly of TIAA; Ken Chenault, formerly of American Express; and Ursula Burns, formerly of Xerox. The list of companies that signed on with them is long; you can peruse it online. Easier to spotlight some who didn’t sign: JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, Walmart’s Doug McMillon, and the two CEOs who got caught in Georgia’s political battle, James Quincey of Coca-Cola and Ed Bastian of Delta. The challenge for all is how to take a principled stand on voting rights without getting chewed up in the fierce partisan crossfire.
While maximizing access to the polls might seem like a motherhood and apple pie issue, it isn’t universally perceived that way. My former colleagues at the Pew Research Center have a pair of questions that get to the substance of the issue nicely:
Which statements come closer to your own views—even if neither is exactly right?
1) Everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to voter, or
2) Citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time.
1) It would not make elections any less secure if election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote, or
2) If election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote, that would also make elections less secure.
Majorities of Americans chose answer 1) in both cases, including more than 80% of Democrats. But 71% of Republicans chose answer 2) to the first question, and 61% chose answer 2) to the second question.
So while the CEOs say they are taking a “nonpartisan” stand, it’s no surprise partisans see it otherwise.
Separately, while JP Morgan is staying off the voting rights pledge, it is announcing today a major new effort on sustainability. The bank is committing $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years to address climate change and sustainable development needs. As I’ve said here before, 2021 is shaping up to be a clear inflection point for business commitments to address climate problems.
More news below.
Quarterly Investment Guide
Roll up, roll up: Fortune's Quarterly Investment Guide is out today. Here's Rey Mashayekhi on how to invest for the 22nd century, Bernhard Warner on what the savviest short-sellers should be eyeing, and Anne Sraders on Cathie Wood's 2021 picks. Full package here: Fortune
Coinbase made its hugely anticipated debut yesterday, closing 31% above the reference price. By market cap at the close of the first day of trading—just over $61 billion—its listing was the 7th biggest in U.S. history. The exchange says it is storing around 11% of all the cryptocurrency in the world, half of which is from institutional investors. Fortune
Boston Consulting Group has released its annual Most Innovative Companies report, and this year it focuses on the pandemic-battling likes of Pfizer and J&J. Interestingly, BCG found for the fifth year running that the most innovative firms are significantly more diverse than average. BCG
Speaking of the vaccine makers, the European Commission has been dropping heavy hints about focusing only on new-fangled mRNA-based COVID vaccines after this year, which would leave the adenovirus camp—notably AstraZeneca and J&J—in the dust. The Russian maker of the Sputnik V vaccine, however, is trying to differentiate its adenovirus-based jab from those other two, stressing there are no indications of a link between Sputnik V and blood clots. Fortune
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
The European Commission's upcoming A.I.-regulation proposals have leaked, showing that some uses of "high-risk" systems—such as China-style social scoring—will be banned. Per Politico: "The proposal also wants to prohibit A.I. systems that cause harm to people by manipulating their behavior, opinions or decisions; exploit or target people's vulnerabilities; and for mass surveillance." But there would be a carve-out for the fight against serious crime, which may not please rights advocates. Politico
Instagram has apologized after its new content-search algorithm was found to be promoting terms such as "appetite suppressants" and "fasting" to people with eating disorders. "As part of this new feature, when you tap on the search bar, we’ll suggest topics you may want to search for," said a spokesperson for Instagram owner Facebook. "Those suggestions, as well as the search results themselves, are limited to general interests, and weight loss should not have been one of them." BBC
How did the FBI manage to unlock one of the San Bernardino shooters' iPhone in 2016, ending an epic encryption-related impasse between Apple and the government? Turns out it was the work of a small Australian hacking firm called Azimuth Security. Washington Post
Über-fraudster Bernie Madoff has died behind bars, so now's a good time to delve into Fortune's archive—this piece from 2009 explains how his crimes worked. Fortune
This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.