In October 2012, just weeks before Election Day, Scott Farmer, the CEO of the uniform and apparel company Cintas Corporation, sent an email to the company’s 30,000 person workforce encouraging them to vote. Without explicitly saying who to vote for, Farmer’s email also sought to shape the employees’ voting decisions by detailing “issues in the upcoming Election that have the potential to impact our nation, our company, our communities, and of course, each of us individually.” In particular, Farmer described the Affordable Care Act championed by President Obama as “the single largest tax on Americans and business in history” and reminded his employees that under the law the company could one day decide to pay a penalty instead of providing health insurance. Farmer also included an “issues guide” in his email comparing the positions of the two presidential candidates, undoubtedly telegraphing which candidate the company preferred the employees support.
Employer efforts like Farmer’s to influence the political choices of their workers are increasingly common. The Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), an organization that works with Cintas and is “dedicated to increasing the political effectiveness of America’s business community,” estimated earlier this year that 31 percent of employees heard from their employers about political issues ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, up from 7 percent in 2006. In May, Vox reported on a survey estimating that nearly a quarter of American workers say they have been contacted about politics by their employers, including seven percent who reported clearly coercive political message from their bosses.
The numbers of employees inundated with their bosses’ political preferences may soon rise. As Reuters recently reported, BIPAC is working with top businesses to register their employees to vote ahead of the 2016 presidential election. And BIPAC isn’t alone in organizing corporate America. Business groups and conservative organizations are working together to get even more companies talking directly to their employees about political and policy issues with the ultimate goal of influencing how those employees vote.
In the past three months, Alfredo Ortiz, the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network (JCN), has made at least two presentations pitching his organization’s Employer to Employee (E2E) communications program to business leaders. The program provides companies with a suite of tools to communicate with their employees about “the impact of government policies on their jobs, pay, benefits and families.” JCN views these employees as “an untapped reservoir of support for free enterprise” and the E2E program as a means to enlist them as political advocates.
JCN, which was started by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, describes itself as “a nonpartisan organization” of entrepreneurs who “believe that government policies are breaking the backs of business owners and killing job creation.” The advocacy group has ties to notorious corporate public relations consultant Richard Berman, who is well-known for fighting any increases in the minimum wage and running anti-union campaigns. Not surprisingly, JCN seeks to convince employees that raising the minimum wage is bad and “right to work” laws are good.
In promotional materials, JCN presents its efforts as focused on “paychecks, not politics.” But according to slides obtained by CREW that were used during these presentations, Ortiz and JCN are promoting the E2E program as being influential on employee voter turnout and choice.
Nipro Diagnostics, a medical device company whose CEO is a member of JCN, allowed JCN to poll its employees before and after being exposed to JCN’s E2E materials. Not only did the poll show that the E2E efforts shaped employee opinions on issues like whether the corporate tax rate should be lowered, but also their voting choices. A quarter of the surveyed Nipro employees who voted in the 2014 midterm elections said that the E2E materials influenced how they voted, according to the presentations.
Several major businesses are already using or are planning on using JCN’s program to influence their employees politically. The slides for one of Ortiz’s presentations, which was delivered to the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, listed several companies that were in the process of implementing the program. The Las Vegas Sands, the casino company run by top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, “will implement E2E program at Las Vegas and Pennsylvania locations,” for instance. Burger chain Hardee’s is planning to institute the program at its corporate headquarters while encouraging franchisees in key states to use it.
In all, nine companies are named in the two presentations as participating in the program. They include companies like White Castle, Mansfield Oil, Liberty Power, and the Mosaic Company. Camp Bow Wow, whose CEO Heidi Ganahl is the face of a JCN campaign against the National Labor Relations Board, is also using JCN materials to influence its employees. In one of his presentations, Ortiz suggests that JCN’s alliance with other business associations could result in “over 2.3 million member contacts with potential employee reach of nearly 60MM.” JCN currently claims to have 73 partners and is seeking to add more groups to the coalition. The partners include trade groups like the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business as well as organizations tied to the Koch brothers’ political network, including Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative. BIPAC is also a JCN partner.
With organizations like JCN and BIPAC ramping up their efforts, American workers can expect to hear more about politics from their bosses before Election Day 2016, whether they want to or not.