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Ten Rules For Corporations And Social Issues

In Chief Executive, Richard Levick provides 10 key rules to guide companies through corporate activism for controversial issues.

“Our private sector must stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex…From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government.” —Senator Mitch McConnell (R- KY)

The gauntlet has been thrown.

How do companies maximize shareholder value while minimizing brand risk at a time when a generation demands that brands stand for something while at the same time GOP leaders just announced that “woke” companies are the issue they can win on in 2022. How do we lead?

Brand neutrality is dead. Since the murder of George Floyd and the insurrection of January 6th, everything is different. There is “no middle ground” as Merck CEO Ken Frazier and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault have forcefully articulated. Companies may not want to be pulled into politics because it’s not a winning proposition – but they also cannot avoid it.

Like Missourians caught between the Union and the Irregulars during the Civil War, we’ve become ensnared by the battle.

The Arc of History

In 2010, after Citizens United, we wrote that the unintended consequences of the Supreme Court’s split decision to find First Amendment rights in corporations also meant that companies would have First Amendment responsibilities.

Going forward, companies would be judged not just for their brands but for their political activity. The Court majority’s assumption that independent spending would be transparent first proved to be incorrect, but is lately becoming a transparency albatross for companies. Public Citizen just identified the corporations that collectively spent $50 million funding candidates supporting voter restrictions. Popular Information– with their two-person staff – has been doing such a remarkable job tracing the issue of corporate PAC funding since before January 6th that the traditional media follows them. For the past two years, the Center for Political Accountability has been making formerly opaque 527 contributions public. If you fund them, you now own the consequences…

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