Mitt Romney has been accused of asking bosses to tell their employees which way to vote in the presidential election.
The allegation is based on a recording of a June 6 conference call organized by the conservative National Federation of Independent Business, in which Romney is heard telling small-business owners:
"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 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."
In These Times, the liberal magazine that highlighted the recording, sees Romney's comments as "what appears to be a growing wave of workplace political pressure unleashed by Citizens United."
That Supreme Court ruling, in 2010, struck down previous legislation that, among other things, banned employers from making partisan political appeals to rank-and-file employees.
Now, according to Paul Secunda, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School writing in the Yale Law Journal, "no other federal law exists that prevents corporations from requiring, on pain of termination, that employees attend one-sided partisan speeches, rallies, videos, or other events that advocate the election of specific candidates or parties."
While subjecting employees to election propaganda is legal, however, making "explicit or implicit threats against employees who vote for the 'wrong' candidate" is not, Secunda says.
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That's certainly not what Romney is advising in this call. But, as Adam Clark Estes writes for the Atlantic Wire, the ethics of mixing work with politics to any degree are questionable.
"There's a fine line between an employer telling an employee, 'Vote Romney!' and a boss telling a subordinate, 'Vote Romney, or else!'," Clark Estes says. "At least, in the eyes of the inevitably subordinate employees there's not."
That fine line has been in evidence—and arguably, crossed—at several corporations this election year. Last week In These Times obtained a voter information pack sent to employees of a Koch Industries subsidiary, which featured a list of company-approved candidates (Romney was top).
There was also a warning that, if unfavorable candidates were elected, "then many of our more than 50,000 US employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills."
Meanwhile the CEO of Westgate Resorts developers, David Siegel, emailed employees to tell them another four years under Barack Obama threatened their jobs; and ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen wrote to his workers that he wouldn't be held responsible for the likely "fallout" on them—i.e., downsizing—if Obama were re-elected.
Mining corporation Murray Energy is even accused of coercing workers into donating to a pro-Republican political action committee, an allegation that has prompted an investigation.
The companies all deny seeking to intimidate their employees. The staff might feel differently.
As for Romney's comments, judge for yourself (they come around 26'30):