Why Politics is Bad for Your (Company's) Health

by Aman Singh Das | March 02, 2011

  • My Vault

There are few things more beloved in Wisconsin than sausage—and bratwurst in particular. So when people in the state seriously consider stopping buying their brats from one of it most iconic homegrown firms you know that something is up.

Anyone who has been paying even scant attention to the news of late can guess what's behind the move: Johnsonville Sausage appears on a list of contributors to the gubernatorial campaign of one Scott Walker.

The same Scott Walker who, as governor of Wisconsin, is attempting to pass a bill that will strip collective bargaining rights from members of public trade unions—a move Walker insists is necessary to properly balance the state's budget. (Note that the list makes no distinction between corporate donors and corporations that employ big donors.)

Unfortunately for Walker and his supporters, plenty of people disagree with his stance, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of protestors who have been taking to the streets and occupying the Capitol building in Madison of late. That's a lot of potential customers for donors to be ticking off at one stroke.

The politics of the bill have been well discussed, and are somewhat beside the point now for many of the companies on the list—in fact, it's more likely that they are slightly more concerned with the damage to their bottom lines. That's if all the people threatening to boycott their products because of their political donations actually follow through.

While the real effectiveness (Did we give up pumping gas from BP stations after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010?) of the campaign—so far only a handful of disgruntled posts have shown up on Johnsonville's Facebook page—remains to be seen, it does once again raise the issue of how wise it is for companies to insert themselves into the political landscape.

The Supreme Court may have decided that corporations have the same rights of free speech as people, but whether companies should exercise those rights is another question entirely. Donating to a political campaign is one thing, but as the events in Wisconsin show on a daily basis, modern day politics is a divisive place to be. At the end of the day, while it might be rare for any political issue to have a decisive majority (except, ironically, over the question of collective bargaining), the risks for companies—especially in an age of instant communication and unprecedented access to information—is concerning.

There are any number of politicians who could offer advice to companies on how best to respond when they've been caught doing something that will make them unpopular with a large section of their community. But rather than seeking advice on crisis management, companies would be better-served by not interfering to at all.

--By Phil Stott, Vault.com

Relevant:
Facebook: Boycott Scott Walker Contributors

Filed Under: CSR

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