April Hall, Directors & Boards, 2021 Second Quarter
After the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, many companies announced that they would halt political contributions, either permanently or for a defined period. Some discontinuations involved a particular political party, some individual legislators and some were complete stops on all contributions.
In the age of “cancel culture,” when social media can circulate calls for boycotts to millions of people in minutes, some companies have begun to act quickly, with either their words or their wallets, to distance themselves from political controversy But there are other companies that have leaned in to a variety of public political positions. This raises the question: Are some companies becoming recognized as “blue” (Democrat-supporting) or “red” (Republican-supporting), or even “purple”? And are such associations good for a company, its shareholders and its stakeholders?
Crisis communications consultant Davia Temin says she often encourages her client companies to take apolitical stands.
During political or social upheaval, sometimes “corporations have to become the adults in the room,” Temin says. Corporations need to maintain some neutrality, “but it’s the difference between making sure that as a corporation you have a purpose and if you’re true to purpose.”
However, she doesn’t usually advise being outwardly political. She says there is a difference between having a “political point of view” and speaking out about a “behavior,” like systemic racism.
“I still think strict political lines are not the way to go,” Temin says.
She also doesn’t support the legal idea behind the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations’ independent expenditures for political communications. The decision has been popularly associated with the notion of “corporate personhood.”
“Corporations are not people,” Temin says. “They are conglomerations of people, and they need big tents for their clients, employees and other stakeholders.
“That is different than having a sole political point of view.” […read more]