A new investigative piece by The Nation exposes the pre-election activities at Koch Industries, which instructed its 50,000 employees who to vote for and why in an election packet full of right-wing propaganda. The packet (they were mailed to employees in all states; the linked example is the one from Washington state) included Koch-endorsed and Koch-PAC supported candidates for election, almost all of them Republicans, and an editorial from Charles Koch himself stressing the importance of pro-business candidates in 2010.

As Mark Ames and Mike Elk point out in their story, in a post-Citizens United universe, this kind of corporate politicking is entirely above board.

“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,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “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.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.” […]

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UClA law pro fessor Katherine stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

Indeed, at the top of the election packet, Koch Industries President and COO David Robertson mentions that the company had never before sent out a copy of its newsletter, Discovery, to employees. The packet went to the employees’ home addresses, and it stressed state legislative candidates even more than candidates at the federal level. Given the general low-name recognition of those candidates, the Koch mailer probably had more influence in those races.

You can read through the packet and its newsletter on “economic freedom” yourself, I barely have the stomach for it. But the major point to be made here is that this is the new normal in a post-Citizens United universe. Indeed, a local McDonald’s franchise in Ohio was caught telling employees who to vote for in a company newsletter. That’s arguably more troubling than the Koch Industries packet. Because an ideological corporation like Koch probably self-selects for conservatives upon hiring, whereas some random McDonald’s franchise is more likely to hire who they can find. But both that franchise and Koch Industries make an implicit guarantee that wages and benefits will fall if their favored candidates lose in the elections. That kind of economic connection that gets made is a powerful motivator for the workers to vote along with the boss.

Some Koch Industries rank and file workers are speaking out about political intimidation:

Employees at Georgia-Pacific warehouses in Portland say the company encourages them to read Charles Koch’s The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company and to attend ideological seminars in which Koch management preaches their bosses’ “market-based management” philosophy.

Travis McKinney, an employee at a Portland Georgia-Pacific distribution center, says, “They drill into your head things like ‘The 10 Guiding Principles of Koch Industries.’ They even stamp the ten principles on your time card.”

State lawmakers in Oregon and elsewhere have tried to restrict this kind of political coercion from employers, but most of those laws are working their way through the courts. In the meantime, this is the future, where you get a voting slate along with your time sheet.

David Dayen

David Dayen