The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling is mostly known for declaring unconstitutional the prohibition against corporations spending money on behalf of candidates. But it also has allowed companies to campaign directly to their employees; in much the same way that employees can talk to each other about politics, it is now legal for an employer to talk to an employee about politics. That makes me a bit nervous, but I can at least understand the argument.
But when it comes to politics, there is a difference between campaigning and coercion. Campaigning is good. Coercion is bad. Campaigning is necessary; it allows candidates to talk to the people, and encourages the people to talk to each other. Coercion is destructive; it undermines the entire principal of a free and fair electoral process. Anytime an employer is talking to an employee about politics, you have to keep an eye on that line–which is why the ruling makes me nervous. But I do believe that it is possible for an employer to have a non-coercive discussion of politics with an employee about politics; just like I have seen employers have non-coercive discussions about romance, race, gender, immigration, and many other potentially controversial topics.
Unfortunately, a few employers have already enthusiastically leaped well across that line. They have attempted to blackmail their employees into voting for a candidate, and in the spirit of the Citizens United ruling, those employers ought to be charged, in criminal court, for interfering with the democratic process–just like you or I would be charged if we attempted to blackmail our neighbors to vote in a particular way.
For instance, CEO David Siegel of Westgate Resorts told 7,000 employees “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.”
If you don’t think this is black-mail, well, just imagine if he had said the same thing about an inter-office romance: ”The economy doesn’t currently pose a a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is if my secretary, Jenny, continues to refuse to sleep with me.”
I know, some of you are objecting that they aren’t equivalent. He might truly believe that a Romney Administration will be better for his business than an Obama Administration; doesn’t he have a right to tell his employees that? Actually, no, he doesn’t. Because it might also be true that Jenny’s rejection of him will cause him to make poor decisions and lead the company into ruin. But it is Jenny’s right to make her decision free from that burden; her decision to date her boss cannot be coerced by the threat of layoffs. In the same way, the employees have the right to vote free from the coercion of the threat of layoffs; whether the CEO believes those layoffs will be necessary is immaterial.
The alternative is that our society ceases to function as a true democracy; instead, votes become the effective property of employers, and our country becomes a true oligarchic society. That should not be allowed to happen, which is why the Justice Department should make a couple high-profile examples of Mr Siegel and any other employer who attempts to coerce their employees to vote in a particular way.