Cruz, Hawley want to “break up” MLB as punishment for protesting Georgia voting restrictions

Senators who backed huge corporate tax cut now angry at “handouts” and “subsidies” to overly "woke" companies

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published April 13, 2021 4:51PM (EDT)

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Three Republican senators introduced a bill on Tuesday that aims to punish Major League Baseball for its decision to move the All-Star game out of Georgia over the state's new voting restrictions.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a bill that would end the MLB's antitrust exemption, which dates back to a 1922 Supreme Court decision, in response to its protest of the Georgia law.

The senators discussed the proposed change as a matter of fairness at a news conference on Tuesday, criticizing corporations for seeking "handouts" and "subsidies," even though all three of them voted to drastically slash corporate taxes and have backed numerous corporate subsidies they like. The trio made clear that the bill was in response to a corporate action they disagreed with.

"This past month we have seen the rise of the 'woke' corporation," Cruz said. "These woke corporations have decided to become the political enforcer for Democrats in Washington."

Cruz accused the companies of "spreading disinformation" about the law, which Republicans dubiously claim expands voting access, even though more than a dozen provisions will make it harder to vote and could allow Republican state lawmakers to subvert elections. Cruz himself has spread misinformation about voting in Colorado, where the MLB moved its All-Star Game, falsely arguing that the state's all-mail elections are more restrictive than the new Georgia rules that Democrats have lambasted as "Jim Crow in the 21st century."

Cruz, who along with Hawley was among the biggest backers of former President Donald Trump's false election claims that sparked the restrictive efforts in Georgia and dozens of other states, argued that the Georgia bill was in response to concerns about voter integrity, even though multiple recounts and audits have confirmed Trump's loss.

"Major League Baseball's decision is indefensible on the merits," he said. "Major League Baseball made a decision that the more than half of its fans that happen to be Republicans are now disfavored and that voter fraud is not a concern legislatures should focus on. That decision was harmful. It's going to hurt baseball."

Hawley, who has previously waded into antitrust legislation amid his ongoing feud with tech companies he accuses of censoring conservatives, said that the solution to corporations trying to "amass" political power is to "break them up."

"This is about preserving the ability of the democratic process to go forward," he said. "The fact that Major League Baseball would get together and punish a state because the elected representatives of that state and the elected governor of that state signed a law to preserve election integrity is unbelievable."

Hawley claimed that the MLB and other corporations that have criticized voter restrictions in Georgia and other states are doing "exactly what the railroad barons tried to do a century ago."

Major League Baseball is the only sports league not subject to federal antitrust laws and there's nothing new about lawmakers seeking to change that. At least a half-dozen efforts have tried and failed to overturn the exception. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2019 called on Congress to "reconsider its antitrust exemption" in response to the league's decision to eliminate dozens of minor league baseball teams. But the senators' effort to cancel the MLB's antitrust exemption comes amid a growing GOP campaign against "cancel culture." It follows years of Republicans pushing to make it easier for corporations to influence politics. It also comes amid a nationwide Republican push to make it harder to vote after Trump lost an election that saw record turnout but zero evidence of any widespread fraud.

Georgia's law limits absentee voting and require a voter ID for mail-in ballots, restricts the use of drop boxes, bans Fulton County's mobile voting buses, makes it difficult to correct ballot mistakes, and makes it a crime to serve water or food to voters in long lines, although it does expand early voting in rural areas. It would also allow the Republican state legislature to replace the secretary of state, who pushed back against Trump's false claims, as head of the state election board and allow the board to take over local election offices, a move that appears aimed at Atlanta-area counties where Biden ran up the score in November. The New York Times identified more than 15 provisions that would make it harder to vote or give more power over elections to Republican lawmakers, though the original version of the bill also included a complete ban on no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration and other provisions that would disproportionately impact voters of color.

MLB is hardly the only corporation protesting the law. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola have come out against the law and nearly 200 companies signed a statement against state legislation "threatening to make voting more difficult." A coalition of more than 100 corporate leaders recently met on Zoom to discuss how to respond to the Georgia law and others proposed in states like Texas.

The criticism has led to backlash from Republican lawmakers, who have courted corporate support and funding for decades.

The Georgia House voted to strip a tax break from Delta, though that effort was shot down in the state Senate. A group of Republican state lawmakers called for Coca-Cola products to be removed from their state house offices.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who filibustered efforts to restrict corporate donations and led a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to remove those limits before backing the Citizens United lawsuit that allowed corporations to pour unlimited sums of cash into politics, warned corporations to "stay out of politics" in response to the criticism.

He walked those comments back a day later, saying, "I'm not talking about political contributions."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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