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Salesforce CEO Fights Anti-LGBT Bill in Georgia

The Salesforce CEO has emerged as a leading voice against so-called "religious freedom" laws. CEO Marc Benioff is calling on the governor of Georgia to veto a state bill that would allow organizations to refuse service to lesbian, gay and transgender people on religious grounds — he said he will trim his company’s investment in the state if it becomes law.

Benioff is using the economic leverage of his company to persuade Governor Nathan Deal to veto House Bill 757, which would allow certain faith-based organizations to deny services to people who don’t conform to their “sincerely held religious belief” and would allow them to fire employees who violate their beliefs.

As he did when the state of Indiana had passed a similar bill, Benioff is seeking to use Salesforce’s economic leverage to carry out what he has in the past described as “economic sanctions.”

Salesforce will “have to reduce its investments in Georgia” if the bill becomes law, the company said in a statement. Options on the table include relocating the Salesforce Connections conference scheduled in Atlanta in May. Salesforce says it expects 15,000 people to attend, and if you assume that each of them spend $1,000, amounts to about $15 million in spending in Atlanta and the surrounding area over a five-day conference, and many will spend much more.

If others follow Salesforce’s lead it could start to hurt the Georgia economy. According to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, in 2013 alone, 13 million people visited Atlanta on domestic business. Together with the 32 million leisure travelers Atlanta sees yearly, they contributed $13 billion to the local economy.

And as happened in Indiana, other companies and high-profile business executives are adding to the pressure. Yelp Chairman Max Levchin said that it’s “the wrong century for this legislation.”

Dell CEO and founder Michael Dell has also opposed the bill. Dell owns SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based security company.

Other tech companies including Microsoft, IBM and Twitter have joined a coalition called Georgia Prospers to oppose the bill.

Governor Deal has until May 3 to decide if he will sign it.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the number of people expected to attend Salesforce Connections. We also revised a paragraph on the economic activity generated by that event.

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