In recent weeks, a flurry of news coverage has focused on an undemocratic trend in workplaces around the country: employers telling their workers which politicians they should vote for. CEOs for Murray Energy, Koch Industries, ASG Software and Westgate Resorts have pressured their employees to vote for particular political candidates, like Mitt Romney.
The Nation has found that the phenomenon appears far more wide-ranging than previously known. Businesses throughout Washington State, along with a loose network of hundreds of coal and mining companies, are preparing to urge employees to vote for specific political candidates. Meanwhile, lobbyists in Washington are working furiously to encourage more corporations to adopt these tactics.
One of the lesser-known consequences of the Citizens United decision is how corporations gained the power to explicitly recommend candidates to their rank-and-file workers. Before, corporations were limited to mostly encouraging civic participation. Now, managers can make political appeals for a candidate in the workplace.
This November, corporations are testing their new Supreme Court–granted rights for the first time in a presidential election. The coal industry is a good place to observe this shifting landscape.
Since 2004, lobbyists for the coal and mining industry have promoted something called “Mine the Vote,” an effort to organize employees and get them to the polls.
The lobbyists, working for the National Mining Association, have taken advantage of their new freedoms to make that effort more aggressive. They have produced a voting guide website called “Mine the Vote,” which they are promoting to their 325-member companies as a means to encourage employees to vote for Mitt Romney. The same website also lists endorsements for Congress, which skew Republican and conservative Democrat.
Patriot Coal, Caterpillar and Rosebud Mining Company are among the mining industry companies that have posted links to Mine the Vote. “It is vital that we elect candidates that support American mining, so we have provided a guide to show you which candidates supported by NMA PAC’s,” a message with the effort explains. The National Mining Association has distributed get-out-the-vote posters featuring information about the voting guide website for managers to post in workrooms.
James Kahl, a corporate attorney advising a number of business associations, wrote in a memo for his clients that the Citizens United decision appears to legalize a number of workplace electioneering efforts. Corporations may now “express electoral preferences to employees” as well as distribute voter guides authored by executives, wrote Kahl.
It was the same conclusion reached by Karl Crow, a political operative who helped the conservative Koch brothers develop their “Themis” grassroots strategy this year. In an article published several months after the court decision, Crow approvingly cited another prominent Republican attorney, Cleta Mitchell, who argued that Citizens United opens the door for businesses to educate “their employees, vendors and customers about candidates and ofﬁceholders whose philosophies and voting records would destroy or permanently damage America’s free enterprise system.” Koch Industries had a head start. As Mike Elk and Mark Ames reported in The Nation, Koch began pressuring employees to vote GOP for the midterm elections two years ago.