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Bringing Citizens United to Bear on the Workplace

[ 57 ] October 14, 2012 |

As reported on Up with Chris this morning, Mike Elk has an important story out on how the Koch Brothers are trying to influence workers in the companies they own to vote for Republicans. Focusing on their Georgia Pacific plywood and paper mills in Oregon, Elk demonstrates the long arm of the Koch Brothers on our elections. I had two thoughts on this. First, don’t mess with Northwestern timber workers. There’s enough workplace radicalism left in that industry that I’m not surprised at all they were willing to talk. Second, what’s scary to me is the effect of Citizens United on state elections. Not only did the Koch Brothers tell their workers to vote Romney, but they also provided a list of people in state elections that support their agenda. In local and state elections, it doesn’t take a lot to swing the vote. Especially in some of these small timber towns, Republicans can win election to the statehouse. Oregon’s legislature is basically split evenly between the two parties. So this matters a lot.

And of course, there’s the whole issue of workplace intimidation. I mean, why not just go full Gilded Age and fire workers who don’t vote the company line? In fact, that’s already happening. Who’s going to stop the new Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan? Labor reporters and bloggers?

….Georgia-Pacific felt it necessary to issue a response. Also, for the sake of full disclosure, I should note that my father’s last job was in a Georgia-Pacific timber mill. Nonunion unfortunately.

Comments (57)

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  1. Rhino says:

    I doubt that anyone is going to stop them. It’s my personal opinion that citizens united is the death knell of your democracy.

    • DrDick says:

      Rhino, I want to apologize to you for being unnecessarily rough on you in the earlier thread. I did not know about your own personal history until the end. Because of that, I wrongly interpreted your response as indifference to the women involved. I now know I was wrong and regret my attitude.

      • Rhino says:

        I wanted to avoid mentioning my personal stake in the issue at all, because i am not really comfortable with the idea that I remain a victim. Honestly, if LGM had an edit feature, you never would have read it and each of us would still be yelling at each other. I am glad you don’t still think i would be indifferent to violentacrez’ victims, which would make me damned near as despicable as he is.

        Frankly i doubt I was expressing myself very well, since emotional involvement is something of a weakness of mine, so i am not all that sure you have anything to apologize for.

        • DrDick says:

          I understand completely and that is why I wanted to apologize. I misjudged you and was wrong to react as I did. I suspect that in your place my reactions would be much the same.

    • Joe says:

      Corporations managed to spend money and affect elections under the old law and the Koch Brothers as individuals and individual millionaires like Sheldon Aspirin Between Your Legs aren’t corporations.

      The idea CU, even if dead wrong, is a “death knell” is a tad ridiculous. The law in question simply didn’t do that much that doing away with it will be a “death knell to democracy.”

      Democracy has a lot of problems these days and real change means a lot more than the limited restraints McCain-Feingold provided. The ruling leaves open, not that there is any national will to really put them in place it seems, various reforms.

      • DrDick says:

        I have to say that CU has made the campaigns a lot more toxic, especially here in Montana, where they have dumped a ton of money in the Senate race (more than either candidate).

      • Rhino says:

        Money is power, and money is solidly behind conservative, even fascist forces in western (not just American) politics. I would like to think youbare are correct, but i think you’re just naive.

        The quantities of cash flowing into even low level elections is stunning, and from what I can see the overwhelming majority of it is tipped to the republicans. I don’t see how that can possibly be anything but devastating.

        • Joe says:

          This only furthers my point. Corporations and individual rich people (a lot of talk about them this time around & you know what? they aren’t “corporations” & can spend their own money under previous law) were not stopped much by McCain Feingold.

          Really doing something about money in politics and corporate power will take significant changes that still are open, if there was the national will to do them. The PROBLEM isn’t my concern here. It is the idea that CU was “the end” of the solution. The law there simply was not the solution anyway.

          As to Bush v. Gore, not a “funeral” either. It was a lousy ruling but Bush probably would have won anyway. The margin was paper thin. Such elections are likely to go either way for any number of reasons. The fact Bush got so close was the real problem.

      • Pestilence says:

        Everyone has their own measure of which straw broke the camels back – to call this ridiculous is to just make yourself ridiculous. Personally I think Bush v Gore was the funeral bell for US democracy, and all we’re seeing subsequently is the Cheynes-Stokes breathing

  2. RepubAnon says:

    As Oregon has vote-by-mail, I’m surprised that the Koch Brothers aren’t having special “fill in your ballot” parties, where one can have one’s vote vetted by one’s supervisor.

    • Rhino says:

      Jesus. Don’t give them ideas.

      • BigHank53 says:

        Oh, don’t think they haven’t already had the idea. On the downside, though, it’d be an open-and-shut case of both vote-rigging and employment discrimination. The company would be on the hook for millions in fines, compensation, and punitive damages. It’s one thing to fuck with an election, but quite another to take the mask off and fuck democracy right in the street. Even the GOP still likes to pretend they’re fair and balanced.

  3. DrDick says:

    Anybody know where I can get a used guillotine in good working order cheap? We really do need some plutocrats’ heads on pikes. They have gotten completely out of control.

  4. Aaron B. says:

    I mean, I don’t think there’s anything INTRINSICALLY wrong with my boss telling me how he feels about the election, and what party he’s supporting to promote his business interests. The problem is that it presents so many possibilities for abuse.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      The intrinsic problem is the power relationship. It’s the same as a professor intimidating students into voting the way they want, with the subtle (or not so subtle) threat of failing a class.

      • Aaron B. says:

        My point is that I can readily imagine a scenario in which my professor tells me who she is voting for and I don’t think anything of it. But I don’t think there’s any way to ENSURE that that power isn’t abused, so it’s best if it not happen altogether.

        This is an important distinction because I don’t think Georgia Pacific has necessarily tried to coerce their workers, but at the same time, they’ve certainly crossed a line that is best not crossed. But I don’t think, for example, that “New Gilded Age” or DrDick’s “Bring Out the Guillotines” are appropriate in this context.

      • Blue Horizon says:

        ^ This.

      • arguingwithsignposts says:

        Or the same as a business telling workers they would be unwise to organize?

  5. losgatosca says:

    Looks fair and balanced to me. They had both sides represented in the packet – anti-Obama AND pro-Rmoney.

  6. Joe says:

    the effect of Citizens United on state elections.

    First, the lawyer they had on the show noted the problem with line drawing here, putting aside the bad policy of it.

    Second, the article notes “The Supreme Court decision overturned previous FEC laws prohibiting employers from expressing electoral opinions directly to their employees.”

    So, not only could corporations not use corporate funds to elections, but pre-CU, corporations couldn’t “express electoral opinions” via letters of this sort? Where is the line there? If some small corporation expressed support of a pro-gay candidate, would that be an issue? No money mind you. Just some letter?

    The efforts here clearly are intimidating but the lawyer on the show didn’t seem to suggest that suddenly with CU that things changed. Companies have for years pressured certain people not to be “too political” or challenge the powers that be. Citizens United suddenly make this the case.

    I don’t really think it should be illegal for corporations to merely say who they endorse. We have a secret ballot. Koch doesn’t know who you voted for. You can ignore them.

    If money isn’t the line but merely expressing opinions is an issue, I think — like the lawyer on Up with Chris Hayes noted — things can get a tad iffy.

    In September, a number of unionized employees at Georgia Pacific’s Toledo, Ore. plant posed for a photo in front of their union hall with Democratic state Senate candidate Arnie Roblan.

    CU also protected what unions could do. If corporations can not “express” who they support, will unions not be able to do so? Are there not liberal leaning corporations? After all, e.g., many corporations are pro-gay, pro-affirmative action and so forth.

    Should they not “express” support of a pro-SSM ballot as unjust coercion? Will merely sending mailings doing so be an issue? The bit about social media use of employees getting them in trouble is the sort of thing we should worry about. Freedom is needed there to balance the playing field.

    • Going with your mixed metaphor, any suggestion that the political playing field is even close to being balanced requires willful disregard of reality.

    • Heron says:

      I’ll try to explain why this stuff is problematic.

      First, businesses are organization. Humans are social animals and as such we love organizations! We love chopping ourselves into little groups like Giants fans, USC alums, Buffy fans, Democrats, pitting those groups against other groups, and defining ourselves through that affiliation. The closer you are to a group, the more important it is in your life, the more likely its hierarchy can influence you. One’s employment is a very important association because you spend most of your time working. As a result, even something as “innocent” as a boss publicizing his politics in the workplace with no threat of punishment or coercion can make people feel pressured to agree. The desire to conform and the desire to not disrupt the social groups we are part of can be just that strong.

      Second, people rely on their employment. Most human beings need their jobs, can’t afford to eat a few months of unemployment looking for work if they lose them, and, when talking about the United States, have no real job security beyond the goodwill of their employer. As such, antagonizing one’s boss isn’t something most people care to do. The threat, explicit or implied, of punishment for one’s political opinions is thus not just the threat of unjust treatment but also of taking away one’s livelihood, and that’s pretty abusive.

      Third, nepotism and patronage are the natural forms of human social organization. This also happens to be why “corruption” isn’t a problem that can ever really be “solved” but only managed; we want to give preference to those we know and those who show us generosity over total strangers. Humans naturally will want to help their “friends”, those they find like-minded and agreeable, in any way they can. As such, employers expressing their political views -opinions that tend to be close to a person’s heart- open the path for workplace corruption. Certain employees may play to those opinions to win the boss’s favor. They could then use that favor to win advancements their performance doesn’t merit, or to hurt the advancement of fellow employees they dislike.

      Fourth, the old laws said nothing about people expressing their opinions-as-citizens. Nothing prevented an employer -in his off hours, as a private citizen- from expressing his political opinions or even from publicizing them. What was barred, regarding this context at least, was the boss-as-boss expressing his opinion. When your boss speaks he doesn’t just speak as himself; he speaks as your superior, as the organization you are part of, and as the person signing your paycheck. He has power over you, and he is speaking with that power. To broadcast his private opinions through his organizational position is to abuse that position.

      A few of us had a discussion on this site a two or three weeks ago about Kant, and one of the things Kant writes about in his political theory of morality is what we’d call “compartmentalization”. What is moral for a person-as-individual can be different from what is moral for a person-as-citizen, and very different from that of a citizen-as-government official, even in a system of “universal” morality such as Kant advocated. A boss talking about his politics is, basically, a moral category error. “Talking about politics” is itself a neutral moral activity, but the office of “boss” is necessarily one of authority and compulsion, and through its lens “talking about politics” can become a morally negative and corrupting activity.

      • Joe says:

        I didn’t’ say the political playing field was truly balanced. I said that the discussion pointed to some real concerns about employee coercion & that, not sending letters out or such, should be our concern. The panel of Chris Hayes, down to the host, seemed to realize this.

        If employment is important, why would an employee be much less concerned if the Koch Brothers as individuals send open letters saying “we might need to fire people if Obama wins”? Or, if a separate PAC with clear corporate support did so?

        So, if the issue is forcing employees to go to a political rally or not post stuff on their Facebook page, yes, that is something we should really be concerned about. OTOH, getting a letter from the boss that such and such a candidate is their preferred candidate is different.

        And, in effect, if you want to ban that, people here are disagreeing with Chris Hayes and his guests. That’s fine. But, it just shows how more complicated it is when your garden variety progressive true believer sort like him sees the complications.

  7. Tracy Lightcap says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I get blurbs all the time about how the coprs are trying to “steal the election”. They are all referring to some aspect of federal elections.

    These, I’m not particularly worried about. Presidential candidates have so much money they can’t figure out how to spend it. (Case in point: the town I teach in in Georgia has gone Pub by about 15% in recent elections. Soooo … who just opened a campaign office downtown? Mitt.) Candidates in congressional elections who have a snowball’s chance in Hell can usually get enough money to be competitive too.

    Sooner or later, the Supers will realize that they are largely marginal in federal elections and start concentrating on state contests. Where there isn’t much in most states of regulation. Where a little money can make a BIG difference. Where low information voting makes for low turnout anyhow. And, of course, where a lot of the decisions that influence federal elections are made. It’s already started, but it won’t be long before we get professional campaigns and big money all the way down to Coroner. That will be a REAL problem.

    • losgatosca says:

      Here in California, corporations, the Mormon church, heck even individual venture capitalists have tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, tried to pass their own special interest legislation through propositions at the sate level. See Tim Draper, Prop H8, etc.

      The corporate world has always been aware of the benefit of moving up and down the legislative food chain. It’s the genesis of both – let the states handle it (when they are losing at the federal level) and – we need national federal legislation (when they are losing at the state level), it just depends where the weak point at any time might be and how the sheeple will react to it.

      Buy a Ben Nelson, buy a Gov Walker, pass a proposition, capture a regulatory body, the pressure never stops, it just assumes different forms as circumstances require/allow.

      Citizens United just made the investments in misdirection and indirection unnecessary. The ‘market’ for buying and selling influence was just made much more efficient. Which is the conservative justices wet dream on every level.

  8. Buffalo Rude says:

    Can someone please explain to me how this is not voter intimidation? I get that a company may be able to campaign for certain candidates directly to their employees. But how is threatening them with their jobs, even if you have no intention to fire anyone, not intimidating act with real (in the minds of the employees) social and economic consequences?

    “Nice jerb ya got there. It’d be a shame of something happened to it.”

  9. Josh G. says:

    I’ve thought for some time that the state level of government is the most problematic. It’s too big to appropriately handle issues like zoning and local infrastructure, but too small (and too dominated by special interests) to handle major issues of public policy. Furthermore, state governments seem to have less effective accountability than either the locals or the feds. At the federal level, enough people actually pay attention to what happens that there is a limit as to what officeholders can get away with; in addition, incumbents will often get voted out of office if the economy sucks. At the local level, there’s plenty of room for graft and corruption, but still, voters will notice and start asking questions if the schools aren’t running or the roads are full of potholes. In contrast, at the state level, it’s much easier for officeholders to pass the buck. There are a lot more nutcases, crackpots, and brazenly corrupt individuals in state legislatures than in Congress.
    Is there any reason besides history and tradition why the state level of government shouldn’t just be abolished?

    • Rhino says:

      “But how will the emperor retain control without the bureaucracy?”

    • MacCheerful says:

      A country of one federal government, several thousand counties and hundreds of thousands of cities, reservations and special districts?

      Well, speaking only parochially, I wonder how the appellate legal system would work. Most major trials are handled by counties or federal district courts. If there are no state level appellate courts, then all the nonfederal questions would either end at the county level (no appeal) or be appealed through to federal.

      Though I guess this is no different than anything else. In your system, everything significant would be handled federally, perhaps with 10-12 federal district managers to deal with regional issues.

      • Pestilence says:

        Introducing an extra layer of federal judiciary would be a trivial problem (at most – ask lawyers to create more jobs for lawyers isnt exactly a heavy lift).

    • Pestilence says:

      I only partially agree – from what I’ve seen in AR, at the local level its even less overseen & reacted to, and the corruption is phenomenal. If the voters complain about a local problem, its invariably blamed on the Federal govt not fixing the potholes, etc.

  10. Major Kong says:

    Well heck, what good is having power if you can’t abuse it?

  11. bradp says:

    He should automatically start deducting dues from wages and funnelling them to his favored candidates. Get in on some of that union grift.

    • Walt says:

      Why do that when you can just keep wages down and take the money out of profits?

      • bradp says:

        Different strokes for different folks, but its easier to take the money out of a paycheck than to never offer the money in the first place.

        • Walt says:

          If you think about it, you’ll see that the exact opposite is true. No one misses money they never see.

        • Cody says:

          The ideal play is to just not pay these people any money. Then they won’t be able to pay those nasty Unions anything!

          Also, the corporation won’t be able to threaten people about losing their jobs. After all, who cares about losing their job when you have to work for free?

  12. Downpuppy says:

    The GP line – They asked for it! – was the funniest stuff I’ve read all week.

    Thanks.

  13. Bitter Scribe says:

    Thank God for secret ballots.

  14. actor212 says:

    G-P’s response was included on Uppers.

  15. microtherion says:

    Personally, I’m looking forward to massive layoffs at CATO if Obama gets reelected.

  16. [...] Bringing Citizens United to Bear on the Workplace: Erik Loomis [...]

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