Do Corporations Deserve a Bully Pulpit?

Should corporations be able to financially support a political candidate — regardless of whether or not we like that candidate? Should corporations publicly express their opinion on a controversial issue such as same-sex marriage rights? And how should progressive voters (wary of corporate money and influence in politics) react when a corporation uses its bully pulpit — even when its words share their political persuasion.

In 2010, Target found itself in hot water with progressives after it contributed financially to MN Forward, which ran advertisements on behalf of conservative Republican Tom Emmer’s campaign for governor. Left-leaning Minnesotans boycotted the local retailer and made their mark on its bottom line. Fast forward to this election season. Another local corporation, General Mills, publicly came out against the anti-same sex marriage amendment that will be on this November’s ballot. Once again, a consumers are threatening to boycott, albeit this time from the political right.

Most agree that corporations wield too much money and power over our electoral process, but do we support those corporations when they express opinions to our liking? At the 2012 Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade, The UpTake caught up with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, State Senator John Marty, presidential candidate Rocky Anderson, and U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum — all steadfast gay rights supporters — and asked them that question.

“I applaud General Mills because I think they’re for equal rights for all, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a corporate board saying ‘we’re for this, or we’re for that’,” said Rep. Ellison. “But when they start weighing in with all the money, that’s when things really change.”

“If we’re going to treat corporations like people — and I don’t think we should — they should have to disclose the dollar amount that they’re giving, and they shouldn’t be afraid to do so,” said Rep. McCollum. “Free speech is about being able to speak freely in this country with pride. They should be proud of who they’re speaking on behalf of. And that’s why we’re proud of General Mills today.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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