Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Are corporations (and other business associations) political actors? Of course. Some of Marcia's posts here on the BLPB have raised, for example, questions about the use of boycotts as firm political activity. See, e.g., here. Marcia also pointed out here that National Football League teams (typically owned by and operated through some form of business association) have been caught up in political activity surrounding the players-kneeling-during-the-national-anthem controversy.
The Vanderbilt Law Review has recently published an essay on the political corporation written by a Dream Team of sorts--two friends who are married to each other--at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Susan Kuo and Ben Means. Susan teaches advocacy and dispute resolution courses (currently focusing on criminal law and procedure, conflicts, and social justice issues) and is the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Ben is likely known to many BLPB readers as a business law guy (with a special focus on small and family owned busnesses). He's been a member of the executive committee for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Business Associations and is past chair of the AALS Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs, and Unincorporated Business Associations. They bring their individual and collective talents to this essay, entitled The Political Economy of Corporate Exit. Here is the SSRN abstract.
Corporate political activity is understood to include financial contributions, lobbying efforts, participation in trade groups, and political advertising, all of which give corporations a “voice” in public decisionmaking. This Essay contends that the accepted definition of corporate political activity overlooks the importance of “exit.” Corporations do not need to spend money to exert political influence; when faced with objectionable laws, they can threaten to take their business elsewhere. From the “grab your wallet” campaign to the fight for LGBT rights in states such as Georgia, Indiana, and North Carolina, corporate exit has played a significant role in recent political controversies.
This Essay offers the first account of corporate exit as a form of political activity and identifies two basic rationales: (1) attaching economic consequences to public choices, and (2) avoiding complicity with laws that violate a corporation’s values. This Essay also shows how citizens can harness corporate economic power when conventional political channels are inaccessible. In an era of hashtag activism and boycotts sustained via social media, corporations cannot afford to ignore consumers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders.
I communicated with Ben about this piece a while back and was excited about it then. I am looking forward to getting into it in short order. Looks like a relevant, insightful read.