Politicized corporations still contribute to public life

It's time to accept that corporations will always play a role in American politics and that might it not always be a bad thing.

When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, it once again highlighted the question of the role of corporations in politics.

The decision meant that super political action committees (super PACs) would be able to garner large donations or flood areas with funding which usually pumped into advertising. The Court's opinion that money equals speech allows corporations to greatly influence elections and has fundamentally altered the political landscape of America.

Election spending in the 2010 and 2012 elections greatly increased since Citizens United. Outside expenditures in the 2012 election totaled over $1 billion.

Money is potent. That is why so many citizens have spoken out against the ruling in Citizens United.

But corporations realistically do not just play a role during election years. They can and do support outside organizations that push for progress.

While companies and other private donors can use their money in elections to essentially influence politics, they can also throw their weight behind civil rights and humanitarian causes. And those causes don't always enlarge their personal profit or conform to their beliefs.

After the mud-slinging mess of the past election and the negative effects of super PACs (including an astounding lack of transparency), it's refreshing to see how a company can support something that does not seem to directly benefit them economically or politically.

The Human Rights Campaign is "a civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans." It formed a coalition of major companies that are calling for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. One of those companies is Marriott International Inc.

This is surprising, as Chairman Bill Marriott is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which firmly believes marriage is solely a union between a man and a woman.

Despite his church's disagreement with the goals of the Human Rights Campaign, Marriott and his company have still chosen to support a cause that they deem fair and right. He says that they have to "take care of all people," regardless of their sexual orientation.

A cynic might say that Marriott's support for this cause might gain them more business. The business gained from this stance must be relatively miniscule. It may also be an issue of donations and tax benefits, as it could save them money.

It's impressive and perhaps uplifting that a corporation would choose to support something that opposes the views of its executives, even if you don't agree with that viewpoint yourself.

It means that companies aren't just mouthpieces for their executives. It means that they do more than just work to get politicians elected that will benefit them in the end. They can be supporters of change and social movements as well as donors to campaigns and super PACs.

Corporations have money and therefore have power. How they use that power is up to them — and, by extension, you.

Don't forget that, as a consumer, you can choose where you shop. If you disagree with the policies of a certain company, choose not to buy their products. Individuals can also speak out against their policy in an attempt to change their position as in the case of Chick-fil-A and its support for anti-gay groups.

Money, corporations and politics are interweaving threads in America's social tapestry. At least there are examples of companies that go against the stereotype of shady backroom deals.


Reach the columnist at jelanza@asu.edu or follow her at @jentrylanza


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