Political Business

Sep 28, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

How far should chief executives of large companies go to support political candidates?

Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott, Home Depot’s Robert Nardelli and eBay’s chief Meg Whitman all say they’re voting for President Bush.

Costco’s James Sinegal has been clear he prefers John Kerry to lead our nation. Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs serve as economic advisers to Sen. Kerry’s campaign.

The leaders mentioned are all comfortable with their contributions to their candidates of choice, but as Carol Hymowitz of the Wall Street Journal points out in her In The Lead column, “CEOs who make donations or hold fund-raisers for candidates tread a fine line between expressing their personal views and pressuring — or appearing to pressure — their lieutenants to follow their lead.”

W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College says, “It’s kind of like sending an e-mail around saying, ‘I’m chairman of the board of the United Way, and I’m giving a generous contribution.’ Even if the CEO doesn’t outright ask for a donation, managers may feel they won’t be thought of well if they don’t give something.”

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, an associate dean at Yale School of Management, sees the political activism as a welcomed development. “It’s good to see business leaders acknowledging their political views, as long as they aren’t proselytizing.”

Moderator’s Comment: Do you see the increased political activism of business leaders as a positive or negative development?
Does the involvement of chief executives in politics raise any ethical questions from your perspective?

We generally fall into the camp favoring increased political activism on the part of business leaders or anyone else for that matter.

In fact, we’re less concerned about the “influence” business leaders may exert than the sentiment expressed by Viacom’s chief, Sumner Redstone, in the Wall
Street Journal

Mr. Redstone, a self-described liberal, said he is voting for President Bush because he is better for Viacom’s business. We would have felt a lot more comfortable
with Mr. Redstone’s choice had he said he felt Mr. Bush was better for the overall good of the country and not simply his own generously stuffed wallet.

George Anderson – Moderator

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