Business and Politics Mix. Here’s How It’s Different Now.

Business and politics don’t mix, you say?

How quaint.

And how naive.

Yes, we’re seeing much more commentary, especially from major employers, when it comes to political and social issues now that this iceberg is visible above the water’s surface. But big and small business have long, probably always, had a voice in political issues. Lobbying was kept behind the scenes, as was fundraising for PACs and candidates. It was one of the first things I learned when I jumped from news to PR, especially in the beginning representing corporate clients – government affairs was a top priority and employees at a certain level (often directors and above) were expected to write personal checks to campaigns. That would happen even as a vendor. Once upon a time, a client basically said, in so many words, that if I knew what was good for me, I’d buy a ticket to an exclusive fundraiser for a Senator.

Just today, dozens of Michigan CEOs put out a statement that fired a warning shot for lawmakers proposing restricting voting rights in the name of “election security.” In recent weeks, we have seen Georgia-based companies speak out against similar measures there, but with little teeth, as the statements came after the measures were enacted into law. Major League Baseball’s All-Star game was moved from that state, also after the fact (if nothing else, leading to the year’s most absurd talking point, so far, accusing MLB’s billionaire owners of acting as a “woke mob”).

As I had the opportunity to explain in this Bridge Magazine report, this intensified in January 2017, when the “Trump travel ban” was introduced and businesses couldn’t stay silent. It picked up steam after Charlottesville the next year and then was cemented as a trend last year, after the murder of George Floyd. Business leaders know that if they are going to be successful recruiting and retaining their future workforce and leaders, they need to pave the way toward inclusive work environments and welcoming communities for their employees. At the same time, they know the big majority of their customers support concepts like expanded equality and democracy. For example, the ballot proposal that amended Michigan’s Constitution in 2018 to expand absentee voting passed with 70 percent of the vote.

Companies don’t go out of business by listening to their employees and customers. But they do if they don’t keep up with the times. For those of us in communications, we need to be equipped to help executives with this. For everyone else, get used to seeing more businesses having something to say publicly and not just at private fundraisers