Stefan Padfield complains that:
You may have heard the stories making the rounds this week about employers pressuring their employees to vote for particular candidates. Much of this activity apparently traces back to Mitt Romney expressly encouraging business owners to do this. As NBCNews.com reported (here):
The candidate himself suggested that business owners adopt this practice during a virtual town hall meeting with the National Federation of Independent Businesses back in June. “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 said, telling the audience, "Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I believe that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision."
Personally, I think a number of the reported tactics rise to the level of an abuse of power. At least to the extent these are corporate employers, my rationale is:
1. The leverage used on these employees is at least partly attributable to the corporate form. That is to say, without the capital accumulation benefits of corporate status, the owners of these businesses would likely not have nearly as much power to exert over this captive audience of employees.
2. These business owners were not granted the right to operate in the corporate form so they could pressure employees to vote for particular candidates. Rather, they were granted the right to operate in the corporate form because of legislative judgments that making incorporation widely available would benefit society as a whole. (If you believe that it is possible to create a corporation solely via private contracting, then this point will be unconvincing to you. However, please let me know if you ever actually manage to pull off that feat.)
3. Given this public aspect of corporate status, it is improper to divert the power of this corporate form to force the business owner’s personal political views on employees.
First, how is this different from a union telling its members how to vote? Or, for that matter, the UC system sending me emails about how the world will end if Prop 30 doesn't pass? The notion that a business can't tell its employees that elections have consequences strikes this observer as absurd, not to mention a gross infringement on First Amendment rights. Should the First Amendment really be interpreted as giving pornographers more rights than employers?
Second, blaming the corporate form is particularly inapt. If the issue is employer pressure on employees, that issue exists regardless of the legal structure of the employer. If you think employers shouldn't be telling employees how government regulation affects business, shouldn't you want to restrict employer speech regardless of whether the employer is structured as a corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship? Indeed, if we really are living in the age of the uncorporation, as my late friend Larry Ribstein used to argue, growing numbers of employers will be unincorporated. Corporate personhood and Citizens United thus are nothing but red herrings in this debate.
Third, even if you think that incorporation is a privilege, wouldn't restrictions on the speech of senior management be an unconstitutional condition?
In sum, this whole kerfuffle is just another way in which the left is seeking to silence its opponents.