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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How Can Corporate Tyranny Be Stopped?

            It has been happening for a while without receiving much notice. Now it is difficult to miss. Virginia Allen described it like this: “The radical left has infiltrated corporate America and is using big business to promote a political agenda.” The situation was recently discussed on “The Daily Signal Podcast” with Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, director of the Free Enterprise Project, AND a member of a new coalition called Stop Corporate Tyranny. 

            After Allen and Danhof had exchanged pleasantries, Allen introduced the topic – How “Stop Corporate Tyranny is working to end the left’s influence on American companies, and how you can be a part of the movement for change” – and asked Danhof explain the website and its mission. 

… So first, a little background is probably helpful for the audience. Directing the Free Enterprise Project for the last 10-plus years, we’ve been screaming from the rooftops to conservatives largely that: Pay attention, big business is no longer with us. Big business is advocating against traditional values, conservative values at a record pace.

Well, fast forward to last year for the very first time in the Gallup polling, Gallup does polling on cultural lanes every year, for the very first time ever big business was underwater with conservatives.

So we’ve been working for about a year-plus to try and build a coalition of conservatives that are willing to engage with big business and fight back against woke capital, fight back against companies that are taking actions that are anathema to conservative and traditional values. So, that’s how we’ve gotten to the point that conservatives are awake now.

I like to say we’re awakened to the woke and we want to do something about it. So, that’s what is all about. It’s a one-stop shop for a couple [of] things.

First, it’s for education on [environmental, social, and governance] and woke because there’s a reason we got here. There’s a reason we got to a place where corporate America is the mouthpiece for the political left, where corporate America is the political muscle, in many instances, and the ones that are carrying the water for the political left.

And so first we let folks know how the heck we got here. And part of it is conservatives were asleep at the switch. Let’s be honest.

But we’re not just going to grouse about the problems, we are an engagement coalition and we want to engage the grassroots of America, the citizens out there who feel helpless to do anything about the cancel culture. They feel helpless against the woke mob, because it’s like trying to drink out of a water hose.

So we’re giving you tools that will allow you to directly engage with business leaders that are taking actions that offend your values. So that’s what the website’s for.

            Danhof continued by discussing the type of people who are part of the coalition: academics, authors, conservative movement thought leaders, former business folks. “It’s a large and growing coalition and look, it’s desperately needed.” He explained that we can “Open up any newspaper” or “turn on the news for five seconds,” “The lead everywhere seems to be big business joining with the left to do X, Y, Z, L, M, N, O, P, right?” He said that the coalition could not be “more timely,” but he also prayed that they are “not too late.” He reminded Allen and the listeners that the left marched through all the institutions – mainstream media, academia, Hollywood, many churches. “Business is the most recent….” “And let’s just hope that the closing gambit hasn’t closed.”

            Allen wanted to know what changed over the past ten years for corporations – like Facebook or Coca-Cola – “to take a policy position on different pieces of legislation.” Danhof called it the “tri-part takeover of corporate America” and said that the Left used the same exact paradigm as they used to take over college campuses: “it was a top-down, bottom-up, and outside-in takeover.” He then started with the top.

On American colleges, what did they do? They set up this thing called tenure. Well, tenure was supposed to be about academic freedom. Well, tenure turned into left’s blackball [of] conservative and traditional-minded professors from getting lifetime tenureship. And that’s how we’ve gotten to the point where there’s dozens of college campuses with zero Republican professors.

            Danhof explained that it was the same thing with corporations. “the left realized, ‘Well, wait a minute, if we want to change corporate direction, let’s change out the leadership. Let’s change out the boards.” The left started “co-opting, and, in some instances, straight up buying the search firms that large companies use to identify board members.”

It’s gotten to the point that one year I was talking with the general counsel of one of the largest companies in America, because I filed a shareholder resolution, and I said, “Hey, my resolution was calling for diversity on their board of directors, but not diversity of skin surface, characteristic, diversity of viewpoint.”

And the general council called me – and I never give away his name or the company that he works for – but he said, “Justin, you’re … over the target on a problem that you may not realize how big it is.”

“Well, how big is it?”

He said, “The search firms that companies my size use have all be co-opted by the left.” He said to me, “They’ll bring us 13 dyed-in-the-wool liberals for an open board seat before we’ll get somebody that we would even consider a moderate.”

            Danhof said that left acted “very intentional[ly],” and that we are now “at the point where the top part of corporate America leans very much to the political left.” He then moved to the bottom-up takeover of corporations, which again was much like it happened on college campuses – particularly toward graduate schools.

… if you’re a conservative student and you know your grade is beholden to a professor that hates your worldview, why would you speak up? Why would you speak your truth? You don’t want to get canceled by your professor. You’re beholden to your professor for your grades. And so many conservatives on college campuses self-sensor.

We’ve reached that point in corporate America. If you’re working at Coca-Cola these days, and you don’t want to go to the training that demands that you be less white if you’re a white person, you can’t speak up for fear of being canceled.

When I engage with the C-suite folks all across industries … I ask them, why do you take liberal position X, Y, and Z? It doesn’t matter [what I ask]…. They all say the same thing. It’s like it buzzes in my ear. They say, “Justin, that’s what our employees want us to do.”

            Danhof knows that the statement is “not true of the broad subset of their employees, but what’s happened is the woke employees, the ones who feel emboldened on college campuses, they feel emboldened at the workplace as well. They’ll demand the critical race theory trainings, they’ll demand the LGBT trainings, and things like this. He added, “conservatives are self-censoring all across business campuses, just like they are on college campuses.” Danhof then moved to the outside-in – “the world that I live in.”

… So we file things called shareholder resolutions because we saw a little over a decade ago … that any resolution on any social or policy issue that was being filed with the company was being filed by a left-wing organization.

And to this day, we’re still the only organization on the right that engages companies by buying up shares of their stock and offering shareholder resolutions….

Liberal groups also rate companies. And these companies then get beholden to these ratings to the point now that Fortune 500 companies … have entire staffs, not just one or two people, but entire staffs at most Fortune 500 companies that their only job is to reply to [environmental, social, and governance] survey questions.

            Danhof continued by explaining that the right is not sending in any questions, “So they’re only responding to and then changing corporate behavior from surveys and questionnaires by the left, and then the left uses those to rate companies. So again, they’re moving the needle and we’re not even playing the game.”

            Allen suggested that moderate corporate heads are moving left out of fear and putting the blame for doing so on his employees. He does not feel comfortable moving left but feels like he has to bend to the left’s demands. Danhof explained that “the left uses business so well, because it recognizes a couple of things.”

First, businesses are more amenable to pressure than most politicians. Most politicians on the Hill, they live in a gerrymandered district. And so it’s very hard to get them to move off of issues. But companies, they literally have a fiduciary legal responsibility to their shareholders first of all. And they’ve all now announced that they’re going to have responsibilities to all sorts of stakeholders.

            Danhof continued by explaining that this is how we got to the point that we are with the state of Georgia. This is why “we have 1,119 companies that are somehow out opposing things like voter ID, … they’re opposing voter integrity…. They are literally working to corrupt American elections, and that’s the stance we find corporate America in right now.”

            Allen wanted to how the debates about the Equality Act connect with the current discussion about corporations and businesses. Danhof explained that “400 of the leading companies in the United States of America are pressing the leadership in Congress to pass the Equality Act…. Four hundred leading American companies want to end women’s sports as we know it and cancel religious freedom for Americans. Danhof had an answer for those Americans who say that the free market will bring balance.

Well, we don’t live in an Ayn Rand novel. We live in more of a corporatocracy than a free market, where big business and big government [are] together teaming up. That’s the scariest proposition of all because [of] the elite power with which that would wield to change the lives of everyday Americans.

So, yeah, I think that there’s a second problem with conservative instinct that has led us down this path. And that is, take any action that we don’t like – we can stick with Coca-Cola and their “be less white” training or their opposition to voter integrity in Georgia.

Conservatives instinctively say, “Well, I’m just going to boycott. I’m done with that company.” And they go on Facebook and they put up a post that their friends and their family all see that all agree with them anyway. And then three days later, they’re driving and they stop at a 7-Eleven, and they pick up a Diet Coke because the history of the conservative boycott of business that offends our value is a history of epic failures.

            Danhof explained that boycotts do not work. They never have, and they never will. The big problem in Danhof’s view is that the list of companies – nearly 1200 – are too many to keep track of all their products and brands. Sifting through them at the grocery store needs “an entire team to help you with that boycott if you want it to be successful…. We can’t boycott our way out of the problem.”

            Allen wanted to know what ordinary people are supposed to do if we cannot vote with our dollars in boycotts. Danhof replied that “the dirty little secret” is that “the left doesn’t boycott either. The left engages. The answer in a single word is engagement.” He explained that “thousands of votes” take place every year “at corporate annual shareholder meetings” for “boards of directors and shareholder proposals.” He explained that it is like Democrats winning every election because no Republicans can “be bothered to vote.”

So at any given annual meeting, 30% to 40% of the vote, people don’t vote. And the evidence is very clear that those individuals and those broker non-votes, those are conservatives. Because if you look at the results of the elections for corporate leaders, for corporate shareholder proposals, there’s an outsized amount of liberal [environmental, social, and governance] proposals that receive record support.

            After giving an example of an oil company where 53% of shareholders voted for the Paris climate accord – and put the company out of business, Danhof said, “So there’s one great example of what we need to do. We need to take back the corporate ballot box. We need to engage that franchise. Because again, politics is downstream from culture.”

We all get engaged in politics, but it’s downstream from culture. That’s why the left worked so hard to change the culture, because you don’t always need to change a politician to have real change and real impact.

And the other things are simple. So if you’re not an investor, what do you do? Well, guess what? There’s not just investor relations offices at all these companies, there’s this thing called customer relations.

If you’re truly going to individually boycott, OK if that’s your values. I’m not going to tell anyone to go against their values, but call the company and let them know why you’re no longer engaging with their products or services.

Call customer relations and say, “Hey, by the way, I’m done with you and here’s why.” Email them. If you’re going to post on Facebook and … Twitter and that you still really want to do that, well, post on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, tweet at them, don’t do it in silence because it’s not going to have any impact or any effect.

            Danhof assured Allen that conservatives have succeeded in changing the direction of a company. By using “shareholder resolutions and negotiations of those resolutions, I’ve got more than a dozen major companies that have changed their corporate policy.” These changes were specifically in companies that stopped discriminating against “employees based on their viewpoint.” That change protects conservative employees who wish to speak their values. About 5.5 million American employees enjoy that protection based on his filing shareholder resolutions.

            So, investors can contact corporations using shareholder resolutions. Stop Corporate Tyranny provides ways that individuals can push back by posting a new action each week that an individual can take to push back against corporate tyranny. “The latest action was to tell Facebook and Twitter to stay out of politics.” The time commitment is small, according to Danhof. 

A couple of clicks. If you have time to go to Stop Corporate Tyranny, right in the middle of our website, you just click through and we’ve done all the work for you. There’s just literally a button that says, “Take action now,” and you click twice. And guess what? It populates an email to Mark Zuckerberg, to Joel Kaplan, to Jennifer Newstead – these are big leaders at Facebook – Sheryl Sandberg, the boards members of these companies.

We already tracked down, we already got all of their contact information. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is click through that you want to communicate with them, you’re outraged over the politicization of their platforms…. You can take action.

            Allen and Danhof agreed that “avoiding despair is really the key.” Danhof stated that he is “very optimistic that companies can get back to neutral.” All we have to do is follow the pattern laid down by the left to engage the corporations and to let them know that we do not like their policies. Stop Corporate Tyranny makes it easy to engage! 

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