GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested to business owners they tell their employees how to vote on a June conference call organized by the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB), an organization the Center for Media and Democracy has recently exposed as a partisan lobbying group advancing big business interests.
The audio, obtained by Mike Elk at In These Times, shows Romney telling participants in the conference call to "pass... along to your employees" their opinions on the November presidential election:
"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. 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" (listen starting at 26:44 in the recording).
Citizens United Opened Door to Business Telling Employees How to Vote
The reason it is no longer illegal for corporations to make direct partisan political communications to their employees is because the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. FEC that the government could not limit corporate political speech, at least as long as that speech is not coordinated with a candidate.
In the wake of that decision, a growing number of business owners have apparently been taking advantage of this newfound "freedom" to dictate to their employees how to vote. For example, Elk reported at In These Times this week that Charles and David Koch had sent around 45,000 employees a packet instructing them to support Romney and other Republicans, and warning that employees "may suffer the consequences" if the Kochs' preferred candidates are not elected. Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel sent a similar email suggesting an Obama victory would lead to layoffs, and ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen warned employees that electing Obama would cause job losses.
On the June NFIB call, Romney not only reminded business owners that there was "nothing illegal" about telling employees how to vote, but he also acknowledged the power of coercion inherent in the employer-employee relationship. He encouraged business owners to tell their employees "about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision." These types of communications were largely prohibited pre-Citizens United.
NFIB Bankrolled by Big Money
The conference call was hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB, a group that purports to represent small business but receives its funding from deep-pocketed interest groups and appears to advance a partisan big business agenda, which the Center for Media and Democracy has recently documented in its NFIBexposed project.
The NFIB gained notoriety in recent years as the plaintiff in the challenge to President Obama's health care reform law, despite polls showing many small business owners supporting "Obamacare." It has partnered with groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in opposing mandatory paid sick leave laws, minimum wage increases, and collective bargaining rights, and in the last two years, has received a $3.7 million donation from Karl Rove's dark money group Crossroads GPS and millions in six figure donations -- suggesting the group's political activities are bankrolled by big business or special interests, not the small businesses it claims to represent. Its leadership is populated by right-wing veterans and big business lobbyists (rather than individuals with a small business background), and all of its spending on political ads this year has gone to benefit Republicans, as have almost all of its campaign contributions. It is also a longtime member and sponsor of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Romney Cited NFIB Study in First Debate
Romney's comments on the NFIB conference call were not the only time he has tied himself to the innocuous-sounding group. At the first presidential debate, he attacked President Obama's tax plan by citing an NFIB study, twice, purporting to show the plan would cost American jobs. The study has been sharply criticized for, among other things, ignoring the fact that Obama's plan would use the money saved from letting the Bush tax cuts expire for deficit reduction, reaching conclusions contradicted by analysts at the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Romney apparently intended to suggest the NFIB is a neutral or nonpartisan source but the facts suggest otherwise.