Oct. 27: Imagine getting a letter from the boss, telling you how to vote.
Until 2010, US federal law barred companies from using corporate money to endorse and campaign for political candidates — and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.
But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies, including Georgia-Pacific and Cintas, have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting how they should vote this autumn.
In these letters, the executives complain about the costs of overregulation, the health care overhaul and possible tax increases. Some letters warn that if President Obama is re-elected, the company could be harmed, potentially jeopardising jobs.
David A. Siegel, 77, chief executive of Westgate Resorts, a major time-share company, wrote to his 7,000 employees, saying that if Obama won, the prospect of higher taxes could hurt the company’s future.
“The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration,” Siegel wrote. “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”
In an interview, Siegel said he was not ordering his employees to vote his way. “There’s no way I can pressure anybody,” he said. “I’m not in the voting booth with them.”
Siegel added: “I really wanted them to know how I felt four more years under President Obama was going to affect them. It would be no different from telling your children: ‘Eat your spinach. It’s good for you.’” Dave Robertson, the president of Koch Industries, sent an information packet and letter this month to more than 30,000 employees of a subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, a paper and pulp company.
The letter attacked government subsidies for “a few favoured cronies” as well as “unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses”.
The letter added, “Many of our more than 50,000 US employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher petrol prices, runaway inflation and other ills.” The Georgia-Pacific letter, first reported by In These Times, included a flier listing several candidates endorsed by the Koch brothers, the conservative billionaires, beginning with Mitt Romney, as well as opinion articles that the brothers had written.
Travis McKinney, a forklift driver for Georgia-Pacific in Portland, Oregon, said the company’s political packet had spurred widespread discussion. “It leaves a bad taste,” McKinney said. “I won’t even wear my Obama pin to work because of the mailer.”
In a statement, Koch Industries said its mailing contained pieces of information “we believe are important for our employees to know about”. The company said the letter was in no way intimidation: “We make it clear that any decision about which candidates to support belongs solely to our employees.”
Other companies whose top executives have sent out anti-Obama letters include Rite-Hite, a manufacturer of industrial equipment based in Milwaukee, and ASG Software Solutions, based in Florida.
Romney has himself urged business owners to appeal to their employees. In a conference call in June organised by the National Federation of Independent Business, he 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.”
Larry Gold, lawyer, said some of the recent employer letters appeared to cross the line into improper coercion.