The Corporate Mad Dogs of Citizens United

As feared, our people’s democratic authority has been dogged nearly to death by the hounds of money in this election go ’round, thanks to the Supreme Court’s reckless decree in the now-infamous Citizens United case.

That rank political power play by five black-robed judicial partisans unleashed the Big Dogs of corporate money to bite democracy right in the butt this year, poisoning our elections with the venom of unlimited special-interest cash. But there’s also been another, little-reported consequence of the malevolent Citizens United decision: It has unleashed mad-dog corporate bosses to tell employees how to vote.

Prior to that 2010 Court ruling, top executives were barred by federal law from using corporate funds to instruct, induce, intimidate or otherwise push workers to support particular candidates. No more, thanks to the five Supremes. Having been given a legal pass, bosses have openly and aggressively conscripted employees to be political troopers for corporate-backed candidates.

For example, CEO David Siegel of Westgate Resorts, a major peddler of time-share schemes, warned his 7,000-strong workforce against voting for Obama. To do so, he wrote in a letter to each of them, would “threaten your job.” Obama, Siegel declared, planned to raise taxes on multimillionaires like him, which would give him “no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”

Likewise, Dave Robertson, president of the Koch brothers’ industrial empire, notified 30,000 workers that they would suffer assorted “ills” if they helped re-elect Obama. In case that message was too subtle, Robertson helpfully included a slate-card of Koch-approved candidates for them to take into the polling booth.

Of course, corporate chieftains say they’re not making threats — just suggestions. As Boss Siegel disingenuously put it: “There’s no way I can pressure anybody. I’m not in the voting booth with them.”

But, of course, he can see (or be told by watchful managers) if any employee dares to sport an Obama campaign button, bumper sticker or lawn sign. And he can find out if any rebellious worker has gone to a Democratic Party event, volunteered in the wrong campaign or made a donation to Obama (now there’s a chilling irony — under Citizens United, Siegel can secretly shovel a million bucks or more straight out of the corporate treasury into an anti-Obama campaign group, but a regular person’s $200 donation has to be disclosed for all to see, including the boss).

So, sure, this is America, where we’re all equal as citizens — you, me and the Fortune 500. And don’t forget that you’re perfectly free to defy the guy who can fire you for whatever reason he makes up — or for no reason at all. Good luck with that.

For a rich example of unbridled boss power in today’s political process, harken back to August, when Mitt Romney appeared on a stage with a group of Ohio coal miners arrayed behind him. “I tell ya,” the clueless candidate cheerfully exclaimed, “you’ve got a great boss.”

That would be Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, who’d previously held a $1.7 million fundraiser for Romney. But if Mitt had just turned around and seen the scowls on the soot-smeared faces of the Murray miners, he would’ve had a clue that they didn’t quite share his enthusiasm for their “great boss.”

One reason for their grumpiness is that they hadn’t volunteered to be there, but had been directed by Bossman Bob to attend. Also, Bob was docking them a day’s pay for “taking the day off” to serve as stage props for Mitt’s campaign. In effect, they were compelled to donate to the Republican. That’ll make you grouchy.

As uncovered in an investigative report by The New Republic, such involuntary support is routinely demanded from the salaried employees of Murray Energy. They get hit up again and again for donations to Romney and such other designated candidates as Sens. Rand Paul, Scott Brown, Jim DeMint, and David Vitter.

Murray himself sends dunning letters to employees’ homes, specifying to each one how much to give and instructing them to send their checks directly to corporate headquarters. Staffers there maintain a list of those who did as told — and those who didn’t. “If you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake,” one employee bluntly explained. “There’s a lot of coercion,” he adds, “They will give you a call if you’re not giving.”

Indeed, Murray deploys his lieutenants to squeeze the laggards — as the boss put it in one letter to them last year: “Please see that our salaried employees ‘step up,’ for their own sakes.” And, in another letter this March, he pointedly named names: “I do not recall ever seeing the attached list of employees … at one of our fundraisers.”

After Romney’s “great boss” statement, he added that Murray “runs a great operation here.” Yeah — a political shakedown operation by the 2012, court-sanctioned, corporate version of political bossism. If you needed another reason to support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, there it is.

Jim Hightower