Companies Accused of Seeking to Influence Elections

Discussion
Nov 06, 2006

By George Anderson


Companies have been doing their civic duty by encouraging consumers and workers to get out and vote on Election Day. Some, such as Wal-Mart, have had employee voter registration drives.


While retailers have been lauded for promoting the need to vote, some have begun to question whether companies have crossed the line from urging employees to vote to seeking to influence their votes.


Target, for example, made the case that voting was the “patriotic duty” of its employees in its in-house magazine. While there is no fault to be found in that sentiment, Target has also set up a web site, www.targetvoters.com, to make its employees aware of federal politicians who voted in line with the company’s position on issues.


Alex Knott, political editor for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, told the Star Tribune, “It’s a completely new way to influence an election. Instead of working behind the scenes and handing out checks, they’re going directly to their employees.”


Getting employees to vote the company line can make a big difference in elections. Wal-Mart has 1.3 million employees in the U.S. while Target has 330,000.


Some involved in the electoral process are concerned that companies are not being forthright about their involvement in partisan politics.


Target, for example, has contributed 75 percent of its political action dollars to the GOP while www.targetvoters.com points employees primarily to Republican candidates.


“It’s hard for a company to maintain the argument that it’s nonpartisan when it has thousands of dollars in campaign contributions going to Republicans, and built around a very specific agenda,” said Mr. Knott.


For its part, Target maintains it is not telling employees how they should vote.


“Our goal is not to tell team members who to vote for but rather to get team members to vote and to be educated on the issue at hand,” said Carolyn Brookter, a Target spokesperson.


Critics of the approach taken by Target and others say the company is doing a disservice to employees by focusing on a just a few bills that pertain specifically to its business while ignoring other issues more important to the country’s welfare.


Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said, “Companies may say they’re nonpartisan, but they’ll describe the issues in such a way that their employees or their customers will agree their point of view.”


Discussion Questions: Is there anything wrong with companies telling employees how they would like them to vote? Do you believe that, in the privacy
of a voting booth, most workers vote how they believe their employer would want them?

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17 Comments on "Companies Accused of Seeking to Influence Elections"


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Robert Leppan
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Robert Leppan
15 years 6 months ago
Companies should be encouraging employees to get out, be involved and do their civic duty – whether its blood drives by the Red Cross, contributing time to charities or voting in elections. However, like the age old theory in the democratic process about the need for separation between “church and state,” I believe that companies should not attempt to influence employees on the way they vote. This can be a grey area -like Target’s publicizing what opinions candidates hold on legislation key to their business interests. But, the idea of pushing a partisan political viewpoint through an organization goes beyond how I think companies should operate and treat their employees. Down this slippery slope comes censure, a failure to promote, or retribution for employees who don’t subscribe to the same political views as the company. Then, what about religious views? I have no problem with companies using their influence to ensure that politicians understand how legislation may affect their competitiveness or ability to compete on a fair and level playing ground. However a condition of… Read more »
Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
15 years 6 months ago

It makes sense for a company to let its employees know how issues and legislation will affect their company and job. The unions are certainly out pounding the campaign turf. A company should communicate with its employees as that makes for better relations. Good employee relations, like good marriages, need great communication. A vote to unionize is not a vote for the union, it is a vote against poor management.

Daryle Hier
Guest
Daryle Hier
15 years 6 months ago

I don’t see why a business can’t “influence” employees choices in an election. There are PAC’s and independent groups that try to influence through advertisements and this is no different. Look, the facts are most people don’t actually pay a lot of attention to politics so if their company says, that issue or this person is good for the company (that they work for), why not have that be an influence just as many other items that persuade people to vote one way or the other. Voters don’t choose in a vacuum plus influence is about as American as it gets (good or bad).

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Serendipity has placed me in what I suspect will be the “clean up” position in this great discussion. Herewith some closing observations.

I am impressed with the diversity of opinion in our RetailWire community.

I am impressed with the candor and forthrightness with which we both express our own opinions and rebut those of others.

I am MOST impressed with our system of governance which allows us to do so.

Vive le vote!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 6 months ago
When public employees vote for public officials, that represents a clear conflict of interest. Any governor who campaigns on giving teachers a pay raise should be disqualified. Have you ever seen a gubernatorial candidate who didn’t promise teachers a pay raise? I think that when we the public put our house in order that we can then look at the private sector. If I work in the private sector then I believe it is incumbent on me to review my employer’s political position and determine how he/she feels a political philosophy benefits OUR business. If the employer’s position is rationally considered and rejected, that is my right. However, I do want to know my employers political position and I do want to support my employers position if it makes sense. If OUR business can be reasonably expected to suffer under a political philosophy then it would follow that supporting a position that promises to lessen my chances of being successful should not be supported. The key here is for the employee to actually make an… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

“Some involved in the electoral process are concerned that companies are not being forthright about their involvement in partisan politics…”

And the same, of course, can be said about those expressing this “concern.”

Suggesting how employees vote is fine, coercion, or using company time/resources to propagandize is not.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 6 months ago

Everyone tries to influence the vote one way or another. Nothing wrong with that as long as one faction doesn’t try intimidation tactics.

I would hope that the American public makes up its own mind and votes on the facts once the curtain closes. But who knows? Maybe Argentinian-manufactured voting machines really decide American elections. That’s even scarier.

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
15 years 6 months ago

Companies along with trade unions, professional groups and religious organizations with a partisan agenda have every right to try and sway the vote of those associated with their group. It would be refreshing, however, if they would stop suggesting that the vote has something to do with saving America instead of simply furthering their own self-interest.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
This issue affords a good moment to revisit the theory of honest bias. When Target tells its employees they should support certain candidates based on their positions on issues of corporate concern, the implication is that the continued health of the company (and job security) may be affected. When labor union leaders rally members behind certain candidates, there is an implication that the quality of worker life (and job security) may be affected. While both organizations may couch their recommendations in civic-minded terms, the reality is that they support the candidates whose positions align best with their own interests. That’s the American way – for better or worse. This type of bias is unavoidable. Even the supposedly objective news media are subject to profit motivated corporate interest. When companies communicate their election recommendations to their employees they also have an obligation to describe, in specific terms, the reasons why they support one candidate over another or why they take a yea or nay position on a ballot issue. This discloses the bias in a way… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
The conceit here is interesting. Do companies really believe they have so much control of their employees’ minds that their workforces will vote the way they are told? On the other hand, it may make some sense for a company to say “Politician X favors us and Politician Y doesn’t.” The danger here is that, in politics, the lines between good (register workers and encourage them to vote) and the bad (coerce workers into voting your way) is very, very thin and traced on a very, very slippery slope. As my old parish priest used to warn us when I was a child,”Always better to avoid the near occasion of sin.” In this case that might mean confining political activities to writing checks to lobbyists and leaving the rank-and-file workers alone. But, in all fairness, this really ISN’T all that new. Unions have been handing out voting sheets for as long as I can remember and some companies have “encouraged” executives to donate to and get involved in supporting certain candidates since time began. That… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Although I totally and vehemently disagree with David’s views that employees are obliged to support the business’ political preferences, I am forced to agree with his conclusion. If the “right” politicians don’t get elected, employees may well find themselves unemployed. Would it really be any different, or better, if one employee turned up on another’s doorstep trying to influence them? Elections are all about influencing voters. Much as it goes against my grain to not disapprove of employers trying to coerce employees, I have to admit that it is all part of life’s great tapestry. The question is where the line between influence and coercion is drawn. How people live their lives, what they do and don’t believe, and how they vote should remain private. Paying someone’s salary does not entitle you to dictate or intrude in their personal affairs. Blackmail may be illegal but if it is merely emotional, probably classifies as unethical only, more’s the pity.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

There is nothing wrong with employers telling employees how to vote. Companies like Target and Wal-Mart contribute a lot of money and they would like to see a return on this investment. It is the employees duty to help assure their company’s success. Having influence over government officials pays big dividends and helps with the ongoing success of the business. In return companies hope to get tax breaks, approved building permits, traffic lights, roadway changes, and less regulation. Employees certainly should not vote for candidates who would oppose such favors for their employers. They might just be voting themselves out of a job.

George Andrews
Guest
George Andrews
15 years 6 months ago
Free speech and exchange of ideas is always a positive. Voter registration drives are good. Companies are partisan and no one, including their associates, think otherwise. Insuring our income and benefit stream is high on all priority lists and knowing where our company stands on who they believe helps my company and my paycheck is good information to have. However, I have attended company United Way drives where I was reminded how important our 100% participation goal was. Coercion even for a good cause is bad. Supervisors and managers should be reminded that you can’t ask someone who they will vote for or did vote for. Companies that cross the line now have a swift blogoshpere, 24/7 news starved world ready to shine their light on them. I will prioritize my concerns: education, roads, war, border, right to bear arms, taxes, gay rights, etc. and vote for my key issues. Or, if I am a party person, vote for my party. The great news is, we still go into the booth alone.
Richard Alleger
Guest
Richard Alleger
15 years 6 months ago

If the organization is tax-exempt, then the government should either pull the group’s tax-exempt status or ask the group to cease and desist.

If the organization pays taxes, well, the organization, or those who can lay claim to publicly representing the organization, have a right to let people (read employees) know how a particular vote may impact the organization…positively or negatively.

Should an employer try to influence employees vote? Probably not. The relationship is already “employ at will” and no job description includes listening to the boss tell an employee who or why to vote a certain way.

Scott Turley
Guest
Scott Turley
15 years 6 months ago
I feel that there is a great big issue with companies “encouraging” their employees to vote for specific candidates. Just as polling places have rules about keeping campaigners a distance away from the polls to prevent undue influence, the employer must realize the pressure on an employee to vote in line with the company’s position. Many employees are not savvy voters and are eager to please management and vote the “right way.” They lack the understanding that the candidate that they are encouraged to vote for, while supporting the economic issues of their employers, may not support the social or economic positions that best align with their own lifestyle or family needs. Many of the companies I have worked for over the years have supported candidates that I do not support and there have been instances where I felt some pressure to vote the company’s position by electing their candidate. The approach described in this article implies that the company can “deliver” the number of employee votes and as such, the candidate should be influenced… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Looking at the literature I’ve received during this election I think every group I belong to is sending me information telling why one candidate or position on an issue is better and why I should support it. After awhile, I really don’t want to read any of it! If information about positions and candidates is on a website that employees have to choose to seek out, I don’t see the harm because I’m not sure many people will choose to seek it out. Encouraging employees and consumers to register and vote is a great idea.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s odd that retailing, an industry known for exceptionally high staff turnover, would think it could sway its employees’ votes. High staff turnover implies alienation. An alienated audience is a low potential source of political support. Many retail employees would love to leave their employers. Why would they take their political advice?

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