Battle for the boardroom

Posted: Oct 06, 2006 12:00 AM
Battle for the boardroom

After over 200 years of independence, the British are still trying to direct U.S. public policy. The Royal Society – the British equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences – recently admonished Exxon Mobil for supporting organizations that question the link between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Notwithstanding the offensive nature of a prestigious organization attempting to silence scientific debate, the Royal Society’s letter sheds light on the larger effort employed by agents of the Left to shut-down corporate support for pro-growth political organizations, politicians and policies. By cutting-off the financial supply lines for free-market thought and policies, these agents – labor unions, NGOs, the media – hope to dominate public debate and control public opinion. As these tactics continue to meet with success, liberal policies and politicians will gain a huge strategic advantage.

Corporations are the weak link in this liberal assault because they are extremely image conscious. The mere publication of a news stories claming they are buying influence through donations to public policy organizations is usually enough to scare companies away. Using this public relations advantage, the Royal Society leaked its letter to Exxon Mobil where it generated the predictable news coverage. The letter openly criticized the company for funding “organizations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change.” In addition, the Royal Society letter claimed Exxon Mobil agreed it would “not be providing any further funding to these organizations” and it further requested “a list of which organizations will no longer be receiving funding.”

According to news reports, the Royal Society scheme worked: Exxon Mobil funding for outside groups for the remainder of 2006 and 2007 is under review and the company decided to stop funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – an organization that has been particularly effective in challenging man-made global warming claims.

If only the Royal Society story was an aberration. Last month, Wal-Mart was targeted by a New York Times story for its relationship with conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute. The article stated, “policy analysts at these groups have written newspaper opinion pieces around the country supporting Wal-Mart, defending the company in interviews with reporters and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington” and it added “the groups – and their employees – have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant retailer.”

Wal-Mart has already moved to the Left to appease liberal opposition. The company hired a former Clinton administration official to handle its media “war room” and it is partnering with the Environmental Defense – a $68 million advocacy group – on environmental matters. Under the new liberal influence, the New York Times story provides the ammunition for Wal-Mart to rationalize its support for conservative policy organizations.

Shareholder activism is another front in the battle to cut-off support for free-market organizations. At the Charles Schwab shareholder meeting, for example, union representatives filed a shareholder resolution seeking to prevent the company’s support of the Cato Institute, and the Club for Growth – a pro-growth political action committee (PAC). The Charles Schwab action was part of a larger union effort to defeat Social Security reform by preventing corporate support for this pro-growth policy initiative.

It’s no secret that free-market organizations are a thorn in the side of liberal activists, politicians and their policies. By directly targeting companies and creating public relations headaches for image sensitive CEOs, the agents of the Left aim to eliminate financial support for free-market ideas. Given the choice between a bad headline or supporting free-market ideas that will help the economy and their profits, many companies play it safe and shy away from confrontation.

For those of us interested in promoting pro-growth ideas, loss of corporate support represents a huge threat to sound public policy. There is too much money, power and influence wielded by companies and free-market advocates can’t afford to give up that high ground to the Left. It’s time for us to recognize that the battle of ideas has moved to the boardroom and we need to stake a position on that front. See you there!