Corporations and Campaigns
My Monday column for the Washington Examiner will focus on the choice facing every Board of Directors and CEO in the aftermath of Citizens United: Ought the corporation they run be involved in this year’s campaigns?
The president knows the importance of this question, and launched another strike at the First Amendment in his weekly radio address. The Washington Post knows this is an enormous issue, and has begun its coverage with an article channeling Democrats about the evils of the decision.
Boards and CEOs might want to begin their consideration of how to use their restored freedom to speak on campaigns and to support or oppose candidates by convening at least a meeting or two on the general subject of how the makeup of Congress is impacting their business and how the control of Congress by the Democrats is impacting the business environment generally. There are experts on these questions who ought to be consulted even as outside experts would be consulted on IT issues or acquisition decisions. This isn’t a question for McKinsey or Bain, but one for public intellectuals, pollsters and policy/politics gurus of the sort found at the White House Writers Group and or the Shawmut Group (which just ran Scott Brown’s campaign.). Ask them. Bring in the sort of experts whose job it is to assess where the political direction in the country is taking the economy generally and your sector specifically. Yes, you have a VP for Governmental Affairs, but the avenues open to you next week are wholly different from those of last week. These questions aren’t about a particular bill or rule-making process, which lobbyist to hire or whether to contribute to this or that candidate. The question on every board room table is whether that company owes it to its shareholders, investors and employees to use its full abilities to elect good candidates and defeat bad ones.
So approach the matter as top tier executives would any other pressing but novel issue: Seek expert advice from outside. Ask some of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to join the conversation. Invite strong partisans like E.J. Dionne and Mark Steyn to the table. Ask Michael Barone what he thinks –he’s the author of the Almanac of American Politics and the smartest analyst of political trends at work today. Ask your General Counsel to run down your options, which are now truly unlimited. You can, if you want to –and I hope you do want to– spend $10 million in an independent expenditure campaign to defeat Barbara Boxer. (If you are a coal company, why wouldn’t you? And with an open declaration of why and how you intend to go about it.) The president this morning warned about a flood of money entering politics. I worry about the flood that is already there, the great majority of it from unions and highly motivated ideological extremists like the billionaires who are trying to remake Colorado politics in their own image.
I have asked my anonymous conservative ad guru Bear in the Woods and Clark Judge of the White House Writers Group to weigh in on this subject, and have begun to compile a list of experts from the world of politics like pollsters and message makers to offer to any CEO who is interested. My view is that two more years of Democratic incompetence will deeply damage our economy. I hope that the leadership of corporate America steps up to the challenge and opportunity before them between now and November 2010 to demand of all candidates and both parties fiscal responsibility and pro-growth, pro-employment policies, and to back up that demand with support or opposition as appropriate.
Comments, especially from CEOs and Board members, are welcome at email@example.com.