In Conference Call, Romney Urged Businesses To Tell Their Employees How to Vote

Mike Elk October 17, 2012

In a June 6, 2012 con­fer­ence call post­ed on the anti-union Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Business’s web­site, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney instruct­ed employ­ers to tell their employ­ees how to vote in the upcom­ing election.

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. And whether you agree with me or you agree with Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, or what­ev­er your polit­i­cal view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.

The call rais­es the ques­tion of whether the Rom­ney cam­paign is com­plic­it in the cor­po­rate attempts to influ­ence employ­ees’ votes that have been recent­ly mak­ing head­lines. On Sun­day, In These Times broke the news that Koch Indus­tries mailed at least 45,000 employ­ees a vot­er infor­ma­tion pack­et that includ­ed a fly­er endors­ing Rom­ney and a let­ter warn­ing, Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employ­ees and con­trac­tors may suf­fer the con­se­quences [of a bad elec­tion result], includ­ing high­er gaso­line prices, run­away infla­tion, and oth­er ills.” Last week, Gawk­er obtained an email in which the CEO of West­gate Resorts, Flori­da bil­lion­aire David Siegel, informed his 7,000 employ­ees that an Oba­ma vic­to­ry would like­ly lead to lay­offs at his com­pa­ny. This week, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes unveiled an email by ASG Soft­ware Solu­tions CEO Arthur Allen in which he, too, warned employ­ees that an Oba­ma sec­ond term would spell layoffs.

In the June call, Rom­ney went on to reas­sure his audi­ence that it is per­fect­ly legal for them to talk to their employ­ees about how to vote:

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. 

He’s cor­rect that such speech is now legal for the first time ever, thanks to the Cit­i­zen Unit­ed rul­ing, which over­turned pre­vi­ous Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion laws that pro­hib­it­ed employ­ers from polit­i­cal cam­paign­ing among employees. 

In the post-Cit­i­zens Unit­ed era, there is not much polit­i­cal pro­tec­tion for at-will employ­ees in the pri­vate sec­tor work­place,” explains Uni­ver­si­ty of Mar­quette Law Pro­fes­sor Paul Secun­da, a pro-union labor lawyer. It is con­ceiv­able, under the cur­rent legal régime, that an employ­er like Koch could actu­al­ly get away with forc­ing his employ­ees, on pains of ter­mi­na­tion, to cam­paign for a giv­en can­di­date or polit­i­cal party.”

Rom­ney pro­vid­ed his call audi­ence with a num­ber of talk­ing points to relay to their employees:

I par­tic­u­lar­ly think that our young kids – and when I say young, I mean col­lege-age and high-school age – they need to under­stand that Amer­i­ca runs on a strong and vibrant busi­ness [sic] … and that we need more busi­ness grow­ing and thriv­ing in this coun­try. They need to under­stand that what the pres­i­dent is doing by bor­row­ing a tril­lion dol­lars more each year than what we spend is run­ning up a cred­it card that they’re going to have to pay off and that their future is very much in jeop­ardy by virtue of the poli­cies that the pres­i­dent is putting in place. So I need you to get out there and campaign.

Beyond Romney’s state­ments on the call, it’s unclear whether his elec­tion oper­a­tion is active­ly coor­di­nat­ing work­place cam­paign­ing by busi­ness­es. Rom­ney press sec­re­tary Andrea Saul did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment.

How­ev­er, the con­fer­ence call rais­es trou­bling ques­tions about what appears to be a grow­ing wave of work­place polit­i­cal pres­sure unleashed by Cit­i­zens Unit­ed.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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