(Community Matters) Mark Ames writes about Russia’s oligarchies, state (aka Putin) pressure on those companies to pressure their employees to vote for Putin, and about these tactics being deployed in our current presidential election. We’re reading about Koch company election packets being sent to employees home threatening layoffs if Obama is reelected, about Murray Energy keeping list of employees who do and don’t attend and contribute to Romney, even of Peter Seigel’s, Westgate Resorts, threats to fire 7,000 employees if Obama wins as well as Romney’s call with business supporters encouraging them to pressure their employees
Since the link to the posting will expire, I’m pasting the NSFW entry:
PUTIN ON THE MITTS >> Romney Using The Same Campaign Tactics That “Number One Foe” Uses
One of the biggest shocks for me since getting tossed out of Russia four years ago was coming back to an America that’s taking on Russia’s worst traits: oligarchy, inequality, a two-tier justice system depending on your wealth.
Now that Romney and his financial backers are openly pressuring company employees to vote for Romney, add “Putin-style elections” to the list of Russian traits America is acquiring.
Last year, I first broke this story with Mike Elk for The Nation about how the Koch brothers were ramming political propaganda down their workers’ throats, advising them which candidates to vote for — all right-wing freemarketeers, nearly all Republican — warning their employees that if their slate of candidates weren’t elected, their jobs could be lost due to economic catastrophe.
The Kochs and other employers can do this thanks to Citizens United, which has done more to speed up the Putin-ization of America than Putin himself could have dreamed of in his darkest fantasies. From the time of the New Deal labor laws until the Citizens United decision in 2010, employers were barred from pressuring their employees on how to vote in elections, for the obvious simple reason that employers have an enormous amount of leverage over employees.
As Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda told me last year:
“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for. Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates. It’s a very troubling situation.”
This past week, Mike Elk reported that the Kochs are once again pressuring their employees on how to vote—for Mitt Romney, in case you’re wondering. Here’s what Elk wrote:
“In a voter information packet obtained by In These Times, the Koch Industries corporate leadership informed tens of thousands of employees at its subsidiary, Georgia Pacific, that their livelihood could depend on the 2012 election and that the company supports Mitt Romney for president. The guide was similar to one the company distributed before the 2010 midterm elections, which Mark Ames and I reported on in The Nation last year.
The packet arrived in the mailboxes of all 45,000 Georgia Pacific employees earlier this month.”
Elk quotes a letter from Koch Industries COO warning company employees:
“If we elect candidates who want to spend hundreds of billions in borrowed money on costly new subsidies for a few favored cronies, put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses, prevent or delay important new construction projects, and excessively hinder free trade, then many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.”
And then on Wednesday, Elk posted the audio of a conference call Mitt Romney gave to the National Federation of Independent Business telling employers to put pressure on their employees to vote Romney:
“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, I hope you pass those along to your employees.”
The employers’ association that Romney spoke to, the National Federation of Independent Business, didn’t even bother hiding the audio that Elk reposted—because now, thanks to Citizens United, it’s no longer illegal to apply that pressure on employees, as Romney himself cheerfully noted in his conference call:
“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.”
It may not be illegal, but then again, in a tinpot oligarchy or pseudo-democracy, a lot of anti-democratic things are “legal.”
And the Kochs are hardly alone among pro-Romney plutocrats pressuring their employees. Gawker outed billionaire Peter Seigel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, for threatening to fire his 7,000 employees if Obama wins. The New Republic exposed how the largest private coal company in America, Murray Energy, strong-armed its employees to not only vote Republican, but to donate money as well—Murray Energy’s CEO even kept lists of employees who didn’t attend Republican fundraisers and rallies, and attacked them by name.
The irony of course is that this is exactly how Putin and the Kremlin “win” their elections—and it’s the sort of election fraud that sparked huge demonstrations last December. What Romney’s CEO billionaire backers are doing—with Romney’s encouragement—is exactly the sort of antidemocratic fraud that American-backed NGOs and election monitors, like the beleaguered Golos, denounce when Putin’s cronies use the same authoritarian pressure tactics.
Last December, in the lead-up to Russia’s rigged parliamentary elections, the US-funded Golos developed an interactive map of election violations and fraud. It was perhaps the first time since Putin took power that a US-backed NGO connected with frustrated Russians (anything US-backed had been in the doghouse and discredited since the disastrous Yeltsin days).
The sort of electoral fraud and violations that Golos collected on its “Map of Violations” sound like standard stuff for the Romney campaign, as reported in the New York Times:
“4,500 reports alleging illegal campaign tactics, including stories of employers threatening workers with pay cuts and local officials ordering business leaders to pressure subordinates.”
In the 2007 Russian parliamentary elections, which allowed Putin to move from President to Prime Minister for awhile (he’s now President again, good for him!)—Golos reported similar violations, as reported in the Moscow Times back then:
“Golos, a nongovernmental organization funded by U.S. and EU donors, among others, said it suspected that employers and bosses were forcing employees to receive the ballots to ensure that they actually vote, in order to gain a higher turnout. Such pressure would violate election law.”
Note that, unlike in America, in Russia it is at least technically illegal for employers to pressure employees on how to vote. So in that sense, we’ve already regressed further from democracy than Putin’s Russia. America’s elections, by the standards of the same elections monitors we fund over in Russia, are looking increasingly as rigged and undemocratic as Russia’s.
Golos was shut down briefly by Russian courts for doing its job — which largely consisted of collecting and exposing incidents in which bosses applied pressure on their workers to vote for Putin’s Party in the Duma elections. This year, the Kremlin moved to cut off western funding for Golos, after they exposed similar antidemocratic tactics in the vote that reinstalled Putin as Russia’s president.
In other words, for authoritarian oligarchy to survive, it needs to be able to work with CEOs to pressure their employees—what Romney is doing today, thanks to Citizens United.
And yet, even Romney’s top Russia policy advisor to his campaign, Leon Aron, in denouncing Putin’s sham elections, singled out ”forcing state employees to vote” among the list of sins.
So Mitt Romney has adopted the same anti-democratic electioneering tactics of the same villain that Romney has promised to start a new Cold War with once he becomes president, having already designated Russia as “our Number One geopolitical foe.”
In the comedy version of this story, Putin and Romney finally meet in a showdown, wherein Putin tells Romney, “You and I, we’re alike Mr. President—is that why you hate me so?”
In the real-life version, we get none of the irony and comedy, and all of the corruption authoritarianism, and oligarchy.