Risky business: Corporate messaging and abortion.

Remember when people used to buy products because they were well made, priced right and met their needs?

Corporate meddling in politically contentious issues to signal virtue of one kind or another has put an end to that.

Businesses have been trying to position themselves as good corporate citizens for years in order to bring about a more favorable operating environment, but earlier efforts focused on neutral moves like raising public awareness of such things as charitable contributions, employee volunteerism and hiring veterans.

Recently, however, companies have been more willing to take public stands on truly controversial issues in order to raise their public profile… and sell more products.  And it just happens to be that federal and state lawmakers are simultaneously using abortion politics to rile their voters ahead of the 2020 election.

An example of this new outspokenness is the response to restrictive abortion legislation recently enacted in several states, including Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio.

On May 7, 2019, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law that would ban abortion as soon as physicians can detect a heartbeat, which can be as soon as six weeks (before some women are aware they’re pregnant).

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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signing abortion law.

“Georgia is a state that values life,” Kemp said at the bill signing. “We protect the innocent, we champion the vulnerable, we stand up and speak for those that are unable to speak for themselves.”

On May 15, Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed a law defining a fetus as a legal person “for homicide purposes” and making performing an abortion in the state a felony.

Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia responded that they might stop producing television shows and movies in Georgia, and multiple actors threatened that they wouldn’t work in Georgia if the state’s law takes effect.

“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “… we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Earlier this month, leaders of more than 180 businesses, including Maria Pope, President and CEO of Portland General Electric, signed a letter that ran as an ad in The New York Times opposing the restrictive abortion laws enacted recently in multiple states.

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Maria Pope, President and CEO of PGE, signed the “Don’t Ban Equality” letter.

“It’s time for companies to stand up for reproductive health care,” the Don’t Ban Equality letter said. Restricting abortion is “bad for business.”

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A problem with corporate virtue signaling like this as a marketing strategy is that it assumes the company has other people’s best interests at heart, that it’s not driven by profit seeking. There’s a risk that even altruistic millennials passionate about social causes will see through that, increasing cynicism, not brand loyalty.

Another issue with corporations trying to sell themselves as social justice warriors is that, as Tara Isabella Burton wrote in Vox, companies are pushing the spending of money “as a ritualistic as well as transactional act.” That can backfire. Purchases based on product quality are more likely to be sustained than those based on ever-changing corporate advocacy.

Public policy positions taken by corporate leaders on social issues may also not reflect the views of many employees or consumers, despite the presumptions of executives that others must be in alignment.

On abortion, for example, polling shows that Americans are actually fairly evenly split between those who identify as pro-life and those who identify as pro-choice. A majority of Americans, including many Democrats, support abortion restrictions in the second and third trimesters. In short, corporate honchos are mistaken if they believe most Americans are unrestricted abortion supporters.

As columnist David Byler wrote in the Washington Post, “… neither Republican nor Democratic voters unanimously want the total victory that activists on both sides are agitating for. Republicans are generally pro-life and Democrats are mostly pro-choice, but there’s real dissent among the rank-and-file voters in both camps. Our constantly shifting status quo may be unnerving to the most engaged pro-choice and pro-life advocates. But whatever they might say, the average U.S. voter wants a negotiated compromise in the abortion wars.”

Corporate evangelizing on all sorts of social issues can run afoul of public and employee attitudes, particularly with toxic social media serving as a megaphone for unhinged mobs of ever-smaller tribes determined to play a role in a debate.

Ideology-driven public positioning can also alienate employees and potential hires who are not in sync with a company’s cultural alignment or simply value open thinking.

”Internally, if leaders can create safe avenues for employees with different values and beliefs to voice their ideas (about CSR practices, products, or other business-related issues), this may lead to greater innovation, not to mention goodwill among those who value ideological tolerance as an over-arching feature of their workplace,” several U.S. business professors wrote in United States Politics and Policy.

Then there’s the fact that organizations and individuals who praise corporate intervention on sensitive public issues are generally much less enthused when the intervention has a conservative bent.

A striking example of this is the left’s outrage over comments made in July 2012 by Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s CEO, to the Baptist Press. Cathy said he was “guilty as charged” in his support of what he described as traditional marriage. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles,” Cathy said.

To say the least, all hell broke loose, with liberals and LGBTQ activists condemning Cathy and endorsing Chick-fil-A boycotts.

Controversy resurfaced with a March 2019 report by the progressive organization Think Progress that the chain’s foundation donated $1.8 million in 2017 to groups Think Progress said have anti-LGBTQ agendas.

Then there’s the shifting attitudes in the corporate world, which make executives unreliable moral leaders. “Americans ought to be cautious before making corporations their moral compass or primary vehicle for reform,” Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, wrote recently in The New Republic. “The policy positions taken by U.S. companies on social issues today lean in the direction of inclusion. But tomorrow might be different, if the country—or a business’s particular consumer base—turns in a different direction.

If all this keeps up, you may soon be nostalgic for the days when companies tried to sell their products with simple “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Bad Sen. Merkley. Ossoff Bungled It.

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Why is this man smiling?

It was hard not to laugh.

I got an email from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today breathlessly proclaiming:

“Wow. In Georgia’s 6th District, Jon Ossoff scored a stunning primary election victory last night with 48% of the vote.”

Since Ossoff’s clear objective in yesterday’s special election was to secure at least 50 percent of the vote among 18 candidates so he could win the race outright and not have to face a single Republican in June, I’d hardly say, “Wow, what a victory.”

A much more honest statement from Merkley would have been, “Oh crap! Democrats spent $17.3 million to push this guy Ossoff across the 50 percent line and he blew it.”

Democrats across the country opened their wallets in support of Ossoff. All together Democrats donated $8.3 million to Ossoff’s campaign in the first quarter of 2017. On top of that, Center for Public Integrity’s Rachel Wilson has reported that super PACs, nonprofits and other groups independent of any candidate’s campaign spent $9 million on the Georgia 6th race.

Now Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer, will have to run in a 2-way race against just one Republican candidate, Karen Handel, in June, when he’ll lose. As Politico said put it, “The likelihood is if there’s a runoff, Republicans will coalesce around one candidate and take Ossoff down in June.”

But Merkley won’t be crying in his beer, because he hopes to raise some money for himself from this confrontation.

“Chip in right now and let’s show Trump that we’re not buying his spin—we’re in it to win it!,” Merkley blasted out in his email, urging folks to send $500 or more.

But he doesn’t want your money to go to “John Ossof for Congress”. No. That would be wrong. Instead, your contribution will go to “Jeff Merkley for Oregon.”

Yep. That’s the ticket.

 

 

 

$17 Million Democrat Dollars Down The Drain: The #Ossoff Election

Democratic Candidate For Georgia's 6th District Leading In Polls On Election Day

Oh well. Never mind.

Democrats across the country opened their wallets in support of Jon Ossoff, a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. Their goal, secure more than 50 percent of the April 18 special election vote, avoid a runoff and win a seat that Republicans have held since 1979.

All together Democrats donated $8.3 million to Ossoff’s campaign in the first quarter of 2017. On top of that, Center for Public Integrity’s Rachel Wilson has reported that super PACs, nonprofits and other groups independent of any candidate’s campaign spent another $9 million on the Georgia 6th race.

But Ossoff didn’t exceed 50 percent. Now Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer, will have to run in a 2-way race against just one Republican candidate in June. The likelihood is his Republican opponent will coast to a win.

So much for the Democrats’ hoped for repudiation of President Trump.

As for Ossoff. Oh well. Never mind.

Celebrities and Politics: Why Are Voters Attracted to Shiny Objects?

What is it about celebrities?

Democrat Jon Ossoff wants to win an open primary on April 18 so he can represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

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Actress Alyssa Milano canvassed Ossoff’s district for him in March and offered voters a ride to an advance polling location.

According to various media, actors Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham‏, want Ossoff to win, too. Media tell us lots of other liberal celebrity actors support Ossoff as well, including Chelsea Handler, Kristen Bell, John Leguizamo, Sam Waterston, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Lynda Carter, Jon Cryer, Debra Messing, George Takei and Rhea Perlman.

I’m not sure yet where Kim Kardashian, who’s so well known for her political sophistication and deep thinking, stands on Ossoff’s race, but I’m sure the media will tell us if she ever blurts out something.

How did we get to the point where this matters, or at least reporters, reporters, pundits and political consultants think it does?

Did you know Elvis Presley supported Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 presidential election and John F. Kennedy in 1960, or that he shared his strong opinions on America’s cultural decline with President Nixon?

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President Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House, 1970

Elvis was particularly incensed about the behavior of actress Jane Fonda, who was photographed at an anti-aircraft gun placement in Hanoi during the Vietnam war.

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Actress Jane Fonda at an anti-aircraft position in North Vietnam in July 1972

Like an updated Tokyo Rose, she’d also gone on Hanoi radio and petitioned American fighting men stationed to the south to lay down their arms because they were fighting an unjust war against the peace-loving North Vietnamese.

Did any of us care what Elvis thought about political issues? I don’t think so.

Did anybody vote for Adlai Stevenson because Elvis endorsed him? I doubt it.

How did we reach a point where the political opinions of pampered, self-absorbed, and often empty- headed celebrities influence our voting? It’s a virulent, ugly form of anti-intellectualism.

 Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Americans are woefully uninformed about history and public policy. According to a Pew Research project, about a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.

A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey revealed that only 34 percent of registered voters can name the three branches of government, only 69 percent know which party controls the House of Representatives and just 21 percent can name the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Hard to believe, but according to Newsweek, 70 percent of Americans have no idea what the constitution, the country’s most important historical, political, and legal document even is.

But Americans do know the names, sexual proclivities, marital history, makeup choices, fashion choices and car crash-like personal lives of celebrities and, increasingly, they pay attention to their political opinions. And the media is thrilled to offer celebrities a platform to say what they think about climate change, refugees, the electoral college or whatever, no matter how nonsensical or shallow those views are or how hyping their views is a devaluation of actual expertise.

If there’s any hope it’s helpful to remember that celebrities like Katy Perry came out for Hillary in droves….and we know how that ended.

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The Manafort mess: I’m shocked, shocked!

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“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!,” said Captain Renault in Casablanca, as a croupier handed him a pile of money.

I feel the same way about comments from political figures in the U.S., including Hillary Clinton, who have expressed astonishment and dismay over allegations that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, provided campaign assistance to Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced to flee from Ukraine to Russia in 2014 after violent several months of political crisis and violent protests.

I’m equally unsurprised by attempts to tar Manafort as a villain because he has lobbied in the U.S. for Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines

Hillary Clinton’s campaign leapt at the chance to draw blood. “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them,” said Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook.

Good grief. Everybody’s in such high dudgeon.

But wait a minute.

We’re not all rubes, as so many politicians and media outlets assume. We know that Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments and special interests, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Take John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In 1988, he and his brother, Tony, founded Podesta Associates, Inc., a Washington, D.C., government relations and public affairs lobbying firm. The firm later changed its name to the Podesta Group, Inc.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, which works to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent, the Podesta Group has been a registered agent, or lobbyist, for a number of foreign governments, including the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the National Security Council of Georgia, the Republic of Kosova, the Government of Albania and the Kingdom of Thailand.

In 2013, for example, the Podesta Group reported being paid $840,196.21 by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The previous year, the corruption watchdog Transparency International awarded the crown of “Corrupt Person of the Year” to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “Despite its massive oil resources, … Azerbaijan is plagued by endemic corruption that prevents ordinary Azerbaijanis from sharing in their country’s natural wealth and is a significant barrier to Azerbaijan’s development,” the organization said.

That same year, public protests against human rights abuses led to brutal crackdowns, arrests, and undemocratic trials.

2013 was another awkward time for the Government of Azerbaijan when election authorities released vote results re-electing Aliyev – a full day before voting had even started. The announcement followed intimidation of activists and journalists and free speech restrictions.

Freedom House, a promoter of global human rights, lambasted the country’s government. “Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian regime characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights,” the organization said in 2013.

The federal  Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

Late last year, the Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The study said the leader of the pack was Omnicom-owned Ketchum PR, which made $37 million representing human-rights violators, followed by Qorvis Communications/MSL Group at $20.6 Million dollars.

In 2013, Ketchum was behind a Vladimir Putin-led PR push tied to Syria. When the New York Times ran a highly visible op-ed about Syria submitted by Russian President Putin in Sept. 2013, Ketchum arranged it (and likely wrote it).

“From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future,” Putin said. “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” The op-ed went on to say, “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force…”

According to ProPublica and Ketchum reports, Russia paid $1.3 million for Ketchum’s professional services for the period ended in May 2013.

In 2014, the New York Times reported how Angus Roxburgh, a former Ketchum consultant and journalist for the BBC and The Economist, recounted his experiences working with Ketchum. “The Russian officials…were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it,” Roxburgh told the Times. “They were eventually persuaded to take reporters to dinner instead.”

According to the Times, Roxburgh told The Daily Beast that Ketchum’s aim “means helping them (Russia) disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia, under fire for human rights abuses, hired a cornucopia of U.S. PR/lobbying firms to tell its story in a favorable way and influence legislation.

In March, the Saudi Royal Embassy retained DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. That same month, it also hired Targeted Victory, which uses expansive data to put together digital campaigns for political clients, and Zignal Labs, which uses big data analytics, media monitoring and business intelligence to provide insights that drive public outreach efforts. In September 2015, the Saudi government expanded its efforts further by signing contracts with PR leviathan Edelman and the Podesta Group.

Just a few things to remember when attack dogs and establishment politicians, including Hillary Clinton, feign surprise and horror at amoral U.S. PR and lobbying firms doing business with foreign governments and foreign leaders with bad reputations.

Don’t be shocked.

 

Addendum

On 8/25/16, PoliticoPlaybook reported that the FBI and DOJ are looking into the Podesta Group’s work in Ukraine:

K STREET WATCH  The FBI and DOJ’s probes into the Podesta Group’s work for a non-profit tied to the former Ukrainian government are sending shockwaves downtown, where the investigation into the firm’s work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine has led to widespread nervousness. Reps from multiple firms who lobby for foreign entities think this might be a tipping point, and the feds might take a much broader look at other firms and clients. “It’s right in the purview of the DOJ – they don’t need a referral,” said one lobbyist.