The Kochs’ Libertarian Hypocrisy: It’s Worse Than You Think

In response to my last post, Gordon Lafer sent me an email:

Unsurprisingly, there’s a glaring contrast between the standards that the Kochs and other employers insist on for themselves—i.e., they should be maximally free to tell their employees who’s worth supporting for public office— and what they are trying to impose on workers’ organizations around the country.

For instance, Alabama’s Act 2010-761, an “ethics” law adopted in 2011 which banned payroll dues deductions for unions that engage in any type of political activity, also includes this:

Any person who is in the employment of…any…governmental agency, shall be on approved leave to engage in political action or the person shall be on personal time before or after work and on holidays.  It shall be unlawful for any officer or employee [of the government] to…coerce or attempt to coerce any subordinate employee to work in any capacity in any political campaign or cause.  Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of the crime of trading in public office and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined or sentenced, or both…

The law defines “political activity” very broadly, to include: “engaging in… any form of political communication, including communications which mention the name of a political candidate.”

So…school teachers can’t talk to each other about which candidate their union endorsed, or who attacked teachers’ rights, when they’re on lunch break or in the break room or pissing in the men’s room, without fear of fine and imprisonment.  And certainly an administrator or senior teacher can’t tell junior teachers that they hope they’ll be out there at the rally in support of school funding.

When it comes to public employees mobilizing around politics, the law upholds a very strict standard.  But in the private sector, supervisors and owners telling their dependent subordinates how they should vote—which in pre-Citizens United law was treated as implicitly coercive because it would dissuade employees from wearing buttons, sporting bumper stickers or being seen at events of the opposition candidate—is no problem.  Like Stephen Colbert’s “I don’t see race,” the Kochs, the Chamber of Commerce, and ALEC “don’t see employer coercion.”

When I asked Gordon to clarify the Kochs’ role in the Alabama law, he wrote back:

The bill was co-sponsored by Alabama Senate Majority Leader James Waggoner, a member of ALEC.  It was trumpeted as a key bill by the National Right to Work Committee and supported by the Alabama Policy Institute, a local ALEC-affiliated think tank.  Both ALEC and the NRTW Committee receive financial support from the Koch brothers.  That’s all the smoking gun there is.  But the Kochs support things like this more explicitly in other states. Americans for Prosperity, the most clear-cut Koch vehicle, doesn’t have an Alabama chapter, but in Arizona was a key backer of another bill banning union dues deductions if those deductions were used for broadly construed “political” purposes.


  1. Frank Moraes October 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm | #

    They discussed this issue over the weekend on Up with Chris Hayes. To me it is quite simple: we can just use the sexual harassment model. I call it political harassment:

  2. Jimmy Reefercake (@JimmyReefercake) October 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm | #

    here, here.

  3. b-psycho October 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm | #

    …so implying that you have to vote a certain way to keep your job is A-OK but employees discussing among themselves is coercion? What an odd standard.

  4. JW Mason (@JWMason1) October 15, 2012 at 10:22 pm | #

    The discussion on the Hayes show was kind of surreal. Apparently the First Amendment exists to protect the right of business to coerce employees into supporting the candidate of the boss’s choice.

    • Frank Moraes October 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm | #

      I was more bothered by how helpless they all were. Josh Barro said, “What would you want to do about it?” And Hayes didn’t really have anything to say. How about, “Stop it!” It isn’t that hard. The Supreme Court has made it very clear that the First Amendment is not absolute. And if coercion in voting does not trump an employer’s right to “speech” I don’t know what does.

    • David Kaib October 16, 2012 at 9:18 am | #

      It seems to me part of the problem is that discussion often conflated things that are obvious advocacy (like the mailers) with things that are obviously coercive. Legally speaking, dealing with the former is far easier, and it’s the thing that actually poses a problem.

  5. anandine October 18, 2012 at 10:12 am | #

    I think the reason government employees are prohibited from political activities on work time is that it could otherwise be so easily and massively abused. Imagine if Karl Rove had the federal workforce at his disposal.

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