Citizens United: Threat to Democracy

By Michael Kaufman

The threat to democracy embodied by the United States Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case extends way beyond the oft-discussed issue of campaign funding. Perhaps even more ominous is the way corporations have interpreted the decision to mean they can pressure employees to vote a certain way. After all, as Mitt Romney put it, “Corporations are people too my friend.”

As reported last week in an article in In These Times, Romney himself suggested the idea in a June 6 conference call posted on the website of the National Federation of Independent Business:  “Romney was addressing a group of self-described ‘small-business owners.’ Twenty-six minutes into the call, after making a lengthy case that President Obama’s first term has been bad for business, Romney said: ‘I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.’”

He also reassured them of the legality of doing so: “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.” Forget the last part of that sentence.  Of course it was never illegal for business owners to try to influence the vote of their family members. But the Citizens United decision overturned previous Federal Election Commission laws that prohibited employers from political campaigning among employees. Now, as the first presidential election campaign since the Citizens United ruling enters its final days, the ramifications are clear.

The Nation magazine reported last week that CEOs for Murray Energy, Koch Industries, ASG Software, and Westgate Resorts “have pressured their employees to vote for particular political candidates, like Mitt Romney.” Further, “the phenomenon appears far more wide-ranging than previously known.” At the same time, “lobbyists in Washington are working furiously to encourage more corporations to adopt these tactics.” Lobbyists for the National Mining Association, produced a voting guide website called “Mine the Vote” for its 325-member companies, to encourage employees to vote for Romney and other candidates favored by the mine owners.

The article quotes Cleta Mitchell, described as a “prominent Republican attorney,” who maintains 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.” Mitchell’s advice was picked up by lawyers for Koch Industries, which began pressuring its employees to vote Republican in the midterm elections two years ago.

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to have employers stuff payroll envelopes with explicit campaign propaganda, according to The Nation. The first political mailer, now being distributed in Massachusetts, proclaims, “Defeat U.S. Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren.”

According to The Nation, DDC Advocacy, the company that helped develop Koch Industries’ campaign to pressure employees to vote for Romney, is led in part by Sara Fagen, former deputy of Karl Rove.  DDC Advocacy and similar firms “specialize in helping businesses activate their employees and customers into-mini lobbyists.” Current DDC clients include Boeing, Aetna, Altria, Humana, Ernst & Young, and other Fortune 500 corporations.

“The real concern here is…the inherent power dynamics between employees and their employers,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel with the BrennanCenterfor Justice, in a recent interview on Current TV. An official e-mail from the boss saying something like “your job could depend on who wins the race” could be interpreted as coercion or intimidation. Could be? Countless workers all over the country are being told by their bosses that their jobs will be in jeopardy if President Obama is re-elected. How much more intimidating can it get?

We may soon find out. “Corporations are people too my friend.”

Michael can be reached at


















Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Citizens United: Threat to Democracy”

  1. Jess Schieffer Says:

    2012 brought into clearest relief ever the power of the MSM to magnify exponentially a liberal’s even modestly positive attributes (e.g. Obama’s “likability”) and ignore all relevant negatives (e.g. Benghazi). In a fantasy world, the heads of the major networks and editors of the NYT, WaPo, etc. would be called out by politicians on the right on a daily basis for this contemptibly corrupt behavior.

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Jess: I’m not sure how your comment relates to what I wrote. In any case criticism of Obama abounds on a daily basis from politicians on the right as well as from talking heads on major networks and syndicated columnists in newspapers all over the U.S.

Leave a Reply