Campaign contradictions

Apr 01, 2010
<p>Doubts abound over whether companies will do much with their new right to fund candidates</p>

In January, five of the Supreme Court sang from one song sheet, but it was as if they were improvising. ‘With the advent of the internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions 
and supporters,’ claimed Justice Scalia in the majority opinion that awarded many of the attributes of citizenship to corporations, especially the right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections via campaign contributions.

It should follow that corporations blessed with citizenship should be liable to conscription, imprisonment, jury duty and all the other responsibilities the rest of us assume along with the privilege of voting. Indeed, you might wonder why the Supreme Court did not go the whole hog and allow a job-share program, so the board of, say, ExxonMobil could run for president.

While the seeming absence of any principles behind the judgment is worrying, however, I doubt it will change political practice as much as its doom-saying opponents fear. It would be difficult to emulate the effect the lobbyists currently create in the dark, and splashing cash about for elections would be all too visible.

Congress will almost certainly respond by requiring a shareholder vote on any political expenditure, which is only fair given the similar restrictions imposed on unions. Indeed, if the Congressional Democrats were anywhere near as Bolshy as Fox TV paints them, they would take the European route and require a stakeholder vote with employees voting on the issue as well. (They could perhaps defer to ancient constitutional precedent and count workers as only three fifths of a share, much as the founding fathers once counted slaves in the census.)

In fact, in today’s polarized environment, any shareholders concerned about the return on their investment should ensure management does not engage in any such political activity because, even if you approve of the political ends management is espousing, corporations involved will have to identify their financing of campaigns. This is counterproductive. For years to come, the only competition will be whether the liberals or 
the conservatives will react more negatively to an overtly corporate sponsored candidate.

What’s more, any company foolish enough to engage in a partisan bun fight in this way is inviting retaliation not only against its favored candidate from voters but also against itself from consumers and shareholders. We 
can assume that many of the 20 percent to 40 percent of the electorate who are perennially ‘mad as hell and not prepared to take it any more’ will boycott sales and stock of any corporation visibly intervening for one side or the other in an election.

But if corporations do lurch into the spotlit political arena instead of skulking in the lobbies, you can be sure IROs will have a whole new line of duties, whipping in dissident shareholders or assuring institutions of their firm’s political correctness.

Oh brave new world, that hath such prospects in it!

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