Politics & Policy

Dear CEOs: Stop Pandering to Progressive Activists

Protesting Shell in Seattle, Wash. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)
They’ll never love you – so reach out, instead, to groups that encourage economic growth.

People who run successful businesses, like the people they employ and empower, often invest some of their success in the pursuit of good causes. To this end, major companies donate billions of dollars every year to fund a wide variety of nonprofit organizations dedicated to everything from feeding the homeless and educating underprivileged youth to encouraging environmental stewardship or a particular policy point of view.

But as the saying goes, the road to hell is well paved with good intentions.

Recent reports that Facebook editors intentionally discriminated against conservative news and institutions are just the latest reminder that many major corporations — including prominent media outlets and social platforms — reflect and promote left-wing priorities. Sometimes this is intentional, as in cases such as Google’s publicly discriminating against politically unpopular companies and slandering free-market groups. In situations similar to what happened at Facebook, anti-conservative bias emerges when workplaces become liberal echo chambers, in which conservative ideas and media are not taken seriously and conservative employees are effectively silenced. In fact, a common refrain from some corporate leaders who defend the march to progressivism is that they are responding to employees’ desires, out of fear of losing top talent.

This is short-sighted.

Successful businesses certainly engage employee concerns and strive to sustain a welcoming environment. More companies should. But at some point, business leaders must weigh public and consumer desire against the ebbs and flows of internal sentiments. In spite of the political views of a corporation’s leadership or its employees, it is incumbent on public companies to acknowledge the belief systems and opposing perspectives of other groups. Today, the same argument is prominent in political battles across the states. When employees’ political agendas impede the employer’s ability to be successful or profitable, there will be negative consequences for the company.

As corporate America takes pains to project a progressive public image, a growing number of left-wing groups are taking advantage of these boardroom insecurities. Progressive organizations increasingly take corporate funding and then attack their benefactors in a never-ending bid to force their often anti-business values on fearful businesses. Many progressive nonprofit groups  run attack ads, launch shame campaigns, and viciously slander businesses that support free-market policies and ideas, such as employee-paycheck protection, education vouchers, or free trade.

Many progressive nonprofit groups run attack ads, launch shame campaigns, and viciously slander businesses that support free-market policies.

A case in point: Shell publicly severed ties with a network of free-market state lawmakers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), to appease anti-oil climate extremists. The company was faced with a heated campaign organized by the same forces that opposed the Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s bid to drill for oil and natural gas in the Arctic. Amid the politically motivated regulatory mess, Shell swiftly abandoned the high-profile drilling project, only months after loudly championing it.

Put simply, Shell surrendered two valuable assets to left-wing hecklers — its participation in a large, effective network of powerful legislators and $7 billion in its prized Arctic drilling project. Meanwhile, the Shell Foundation spends millions on solar and other renewable-energy projects favored by the same activists who willfully undermine its business success in the name of, among other things, renewable energy.

Of course, it is the height of hypocrisy to embrace corporate funding and then attack those corporate donors for investing in the successful practices that gave them the means to donate in the first place. More important, this ongoing dynamic shows the degree to which businesses have willfully catered to the far Left in hopes of being loved, only to find their generosity transformed into their own weakness.

For industry leaders, donating to progressive organizations in the hope of earning good will is like paying ransom to blackmailers in the hope they will be satisfied and stop. Progressive agitators will never be satisfied, and the more support they get, the more they will use it against their misguided supporters.

Instead of pandering to groups that will never love or respect them, industry leaders should embrace networks and ideas that encourage the healthy economic growth vital to everybody’s success. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt understood this well when he stood up to U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to defend free enterprise for the incredible good it has done for hardworking American taxpayers.

The people who create jobs for hardworking Americans should never apologize for success or enable the bad actors who would undermine it. If industry leaders want to keep succeeding, they should encourage a culture and society that values entrepreneurship, education, and success. If some progressives are loudly unhappy about that, so be it.

– Lisa B. Nelson is the CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council. To learn more about ALEC, visit www.alec.org

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