A freshly aired audio recording in which Mitt Romney asks business owners to talk with employees about the upcoming election sounds at first like a throwback to the bad old days of voter clientelism. That's the term academics use for the time-honored American practice of trading something nice for political support.
Voters used to be able to get a shot of whiskey or a pair of boots. Now, in the era of expanding corporate rights, you might just get a half-promise not to be fired – as long as you vote the right way.
Romney was speaking on a conference call that was sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, as part of a series that had previously featured Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. He had been talking about why Barack Obama is bad for business. Then he encouraged employers to "make it very clear to your employees" how they feel about the presidential race:
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. Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.
The recording, which was first spied by In These Times, has generated consternation on the left. It came to light in the same week that Mike Elk of In These Times reported that the Koch brothers, David and Charles, had sent 45,000 employees packets containing actual lists of candidates supported by Koch Industries. At the top of the list of approved candidates was Mitt Romney.
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