Politics – Why Big Corporations Won’t Change Their Tactics

I don’t happen to agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling that it’s OK for large corporations to spend money freely on political elections. I think it’s an overly literal reading of the law that doesn’t seem to want to address the fairly fundamental question of whether large organizations have the same rights as individual Americans. Admittedly, that’s a pretty tricky issue, which we won’t tackle at the moment, but we’ll tackle it eventually…which is more than the Supremes seem to want to do.

However, all the bellyaching that this is going to totally destroy everything is a bit over the top. It’s a rather naive view of campaign financing, and the benefits (to companies, at least) of the current model.

Most companies have a very strong vested interest in you not finding out what foundations, PACs and so on they provide funding for. For example, Richard Haynes, the owner of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People, was busted for using all that money he collected from disaffected urban hipsters who think “Idaho? You Da Ho!” is the height of wit to back quite a few scumbags, most notably Rick Santorum, who even some members of the GOP find terrifying.

That’s the thing: Urban Outfitters would, very much, like for you, me, and everybody else to spend as much money as possible at their stores, and overt political action on the part of a company is as good as a marketing effort saying “fuck you” to any customer who might disagree with the company’s viewpoint.

And therein lies the first problem: any kind of overt political speech is also, like it or not, a part of the company’s marketing strategy. If the company has no stake in wooing voters opposed to a candidate or bill, like, say, Remington, then openly backing a political candidate has little marketing cost. But for somebody like, say, Johnson and Johnson? It could be a marketing disaster, and certainly a huge risk.

And for what benefit? It’s difficult enough maintaining political capital when you’re a business. People like to harrumph about how Big Business Runs Everything, but the reality is, politicians keep their jobs because people vote them into office, and if public sentiment turns against your company, the politician who was your friend yesterday will have no qualms about eating you alive. Now say you’ve come out in public backing a party 110%, and then they fall out of power. Precisely how much heft do you think you’ll have with the people you screwed?

What about candidate races? Again, why would you openly back a candidate? How bad is it going to look, from a marketing perspective, if the guy you’ve championed turns out to be a thief, cheating on his wife, or otherwise caught up in scandal? And it can be turned around on you, as well. “David and Goliath” is a tried-and-true narrative in politics, and Big Business is always cast as Goliath.

Similarly, backing or attacking a bill is risky based on public opinion. All it takes is one idiot with a point to make and a pen, and suddenly you’re backing the “Abort the Gay Babies” bill. By the time a bill gets through Congress, it’s substantially different.

It’s worth remembering, also, that most companies play both sides of the fence. Republicans may get the bulk of corporate donations, but that’s only because the current GOP leadership’s idea of solving a problem is to throw them lots of taxpayer money with no oversight (i.e. free profit). Plenty of corporations back Democrats, as well.

Does this mean there will be more campaign cash out there? Possibly, albeit unlikely. Businesses have to make money, after all. But whatever is out there, it’s still going to be quietly funneled and hard to spot who’s paying for who.

And let’s not forget, the same law applies to private citizen’s groups and unions. This entire suit was because some dumbasses wanted to buy airtime to run a “We Hate Hillary” steamer and were blocked from doing so.

And that’s really the thing. So much of this material is doing little more than preaching to the choir. Big Business can do a lot, but it can’t make an unpopular candidate popular. Something to consider, as we go down this road.

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