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Every four years we get a trickle of stories about workplace intimidation over the election. Either a corporation’s CEO tells its workers to vote for a particular candidate, or they stuff propaganda in with their paycheck or in a company newsletter, or they simply say that they’ll have to fire workers if the “wrong” candidate wins. This kind of thing is probably as old as the US election process itself; the Gilded Age is filled with stories of this nature, of company functionaries punching ballots for their workers, and the like.

What we don’t usually hear every four years is the voice of one of the candidates basically encouraging this strategy to business leaders.

In a June 6, 2012 conference call posted on the anti-union National Federation of Independent Business’s website, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instructed employers to tell their employees how to vote in the upcoming election.

Romney was addressing a group of self-described “small-business owners.” Twenty-six minutes into the call, after making a lengthy case that President Obama’s first term has been bad for business, Romney said:

“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.”

I guess the end of that statement makes it OK for business owners to tell their employees how to vote. Hey, it’s nonpartisan! But while this kind of workplace political pressure may be nominally legal, especially after Citizens United (hey, it’s just free speech), it’s incredibly shady, and it doesn’t reflect well on the candidate encouraging it.

But I’m sad about this for another reason. This comes from In These Times, a small magazine on the left which has broken a number of stories about workplace political pressure this election season. Here’s another one from just this week, about Koch Indsutries sending pro-corporate propaganda to 45,000 workers in a mailing.

But In These Times lost their grant that funds journalism like this, and the reporters who broke this and other stories have already seen pay cuts to continue their work. Exposing corporate malfeasance and labor intimidation just isn’t all that lucrative. And the progressive movement funding has simply turned away from economic issues. It’s all very depressing.

David Dayen

David Dayen