Corporations influence politics, but not in the way you think you do

It's not that they buy politicians (there's some of that), it's that they order their workers donate to, write to, and vote for their preferred politicians, with reprisals for employees who don't toe the company line.

Harvard's Alexander Hertel-Fernandez surveyed 1000 employees and 500 execs at big firms about their use of workplace coercion to attain their political goals. More than half the execs surveyed admitted to participating roping their employees into their political agendas, and using existing workplace surveillance to track compliance. 20 percent of workers surveyed reported receiving threats to their employment for noncompliance.

The real problem is that workers are the instruments of their bosses' will. If a corporation were just a person, it'd have only one vote. But corporations and firms have more than one vote. Those additional votes can't be measured by the money those firms spend in a campaign, by the ads and lunches firms buy. Every CEO's vote is augmented by the workers he controls, by the votes he can deliver like the ward bosses of old. While Citizens United made that problem worse—not because of the unlimited cash it allows into the political sphere but, as some of its earliest critics noted, because of the restrictions it removes on the power of employers to influence and mobilize their workers—it was always and already there.

When we think of corruption, we think of something getting debased, becoming impure, by the introduction of a foreign material. Money worms its way into the body politic, which rots from within. The antidote to corruption, then, is to keep unlike things apart. Take the big money out of politics or limit its role. That's what our campaign finance reformers tell us.

But the problem isn't corruption. It's capitalism. Workers are dependent on employers for their well-being. That makes them vulnerable to their bosses' demands, about a great many matters, including politics. The ballot and the buck are fused. Not because of campaign donations but because of the unequal relationship between capital and labor. Not just in the corridors of Congress but also in the halls of the workplace. Unless you confront the latter, you'll never redress the former. Without economic democracy, there's no political democracy.

Your boss wants to control your vote: The real reason to fear corporate power [Corey Robin/Salon]

When Bosses Recruit Employees into Politics – Evidence from a New National Survey [Alexander Hertel-Fernandez/Scholars Strategy Network]

(via Crooked Timber)

(Image: Museo Internazionale delle Marionette,
Leonardo Pilara, CC-BY-SA