America's corporate activism: The rise of the CEO as social justice warrior

When Trump was elected in 2016, corporate America became a lot more activist. Amazon, Microsoft and other firms provided impact data in support of the Washington state lawsuit against the Muslim ban. Companies renewed their commitments to fighting climate change in the wake of dismantled EPA rules. Of course, in opposing the travel ban, firms had a self-serving need: their desire for skilled labor. In the case of opposition to border policies, firms had a different self-serving need: a demand for a moral stand either because it suited the culture of the firm or staved off a public relations mishap.

According to a 2019 study, The Politics of CEOs, CEOs influence political spending at their firms and gain stature from their image as thought leaders with expertise and authority on policy issues. They also have tools to influence the political process, as Citizens United made it legal for corporations to make unlimited campaign expenditures.

A 2018 Edelman survey found that 64% of the public believes CEOs “should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it”, and 84% believes that CEOs should inform and shape ongoing policy debates.