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How Non-Partisan Business Leaders Can Help Fix America

10 non-partisan action steps for investors and executives to help fix our broken political process

Almost everyone agrees that the American political system is dysfunctional. You love our country, and you want to do something about it. 

But, becoming politically active can be a challenge, particularly if you’re in a business leadership role. No matter how passionately you feel about your political position, you may be constrained in taking a public stance. You may be worried about blowback, boycotts, and clients concerned you’re not focused on your day job.

The good news is that there are 10 non-partisan ways you can patriotically address some of the country’s most challenging political problems. I’ve broken them into three buckets: A) Voting and census; B) Push media companies to inform Americans accurately; and C) Outreach to your employees and community. 

A) Vote and complete the census.

  1. The most impactful step you can take to help America more accurately reflect our citizens’ (and your company’s) political goals is to increase voting rates. In 2016, an estimated 100 million eligible voters did not cast a vote. Voting in 2020 for many people will take more time than planned, given high turnout, social distancing requirements, and COVID-19 forcing other changes to our electoral processes. See FixtheSystem for a list of ways businesses can encourage and enable voting. 
  2. Encourage employees to volunteer or take a day to serve as poll workers. We have a nationwide shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Register at Powerthepolls.org.
  3. Nudge your employees, customers, and community to complete the census. Census completion rates are low, and COVID-19 only complicates the ability of the census team to knock doors or solicit shoppers. Census data directly drives the number of congressional representatives you’re entitled to and allocation of government dollars into your local school system, fire department, roads, and other community infrastructure. Organize volunteer days with the Census to help get communities completion rates up. Share the link to 2020census.gov

B) Push media companies to inform Americans accurately.

  1. Evaluate the media venues where you advertise to check if you’re comfortable with their biases. All media have biases; if you’re spending money on a media channel, you’re supporting those biases. This is particularly an issue with the social media companies, which can spread misinformation and tilt elections in directions you may not like. Speak with your media spend partners when you see coverage that you think is unfair, unbalanced, misleading, or offensive. 
  2. Protect your brand from association with misleading news, disinformation, and hate speech. If you are running programmatic or retargeting ads through Google or other vendors, your ads are most likely funding content you’d find abhorrent. As Facebook investor and critic Roger McNamee has observed, the toxic content running on social media is like information-age pollution. An excellent example of businesses taking leadership on this issue is StopHateforProfit.org, the campaign to pressure Facebook not to profit from hate and misinformation. Nandini Jammi, co-founder at CheckMyAds.org (which protects brands from offensive content), said, “If you support your community and our democracy by advertising on high-quality journalism, not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also hands down the best place to be advertising right now.”
  3. Demand media companies provide full political spending disclosure. For example, researchers have discovered major gaps in Facebook’s ad archive that could “enable a malicious advertiser to avoid accurate disclosure of their political ads.” 

C) Outreach to your employees and community.

  1. Partner with other concerned executives. Michael Cohen, CEO, Cohen Research Group, observed, “Every CEO knows a large number of people and are, usually, considered to be a thought leader within their real of influence.” A range of nonpartisan business organizations are focused on helping executives like us effect change, including but not limited to A Day for Democracy, Civic Alliance, ElectionDay.org, FixtheSystem, Issue One, Leadership Now Project, and Time to Vote.
  2. Educate your employees and community on the issues. Point them to non-partisan sites like BallotReady, POPVOX, and OnTheIssues. You might use words like “civic engagement” rather than “politics”, in order to be as neutral as possible.
  3. Focus on local politics, not national. Stuart Williams, Chairman and Founder of In Place Impact, observes, “The most important politics in any country are local politics, hence our mayors are the most important politicians we have.” National politics gets disproportionate media attention, particularly given the evisceration of America’s urban newspapers. However, you likely will have a lot more positive impact on your community by engaging with your local mayor, governor, and other officials.  
  4. Diligence the candidates you support to make sure they’re reasonably aligned with your values. Large companies often make donations to politicians of both parties; a donation does not imply that you agree 100% with a given politician. However, Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock, Inc. and Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, observes, “If you have chosen to express support for something — then you should make sure that your actions back up your words.  Nothing looks worse than the hypocrisy of telling your employees or your customers that you support their cause — and then later having to explain why you are financially backing politicians who are working to destroy that cause.” Run a thorough assessment of a given candidate’s positions, to make sure that they’re not in violent disagreement with some of your stakeholders’ values.   

Elizabeth Kraus, Founding Partner at the MergeLane Venture Fund, observed, “As a venture capitalist, I have the privilege to build relationships with people who have extraordinary resources, but I am afraid of jeopardizing those relationships by crossing the partisan line. Inviting my network to participate in increasing access to democracy tends to be the most appealing and least polarizing approach. It also facilitates a productive conversation beyond our echo chamber. As one example, our professional connections on both sides of the aisle have been willing and eager to step up to support our portfolio company, BallotReady, which helps people vote informed.” 

You have influence; please use it. If you don’t, we will live in a less functional state. That’s bad for America, and it’s bad for business.

For further reading: 

I wrote a sequel to this essay: Partisan Activism 101 for Investors and Executives

How Business Leaders Can Champion Democracy

It’s time for Tech Startups to Get Political

Talking Politics: When, How, and Why CEOs Should Speak Out

The Double-Edged Sword of CEO Activism

Corporate political activism is now becoming a requirement for doing business

Why Capitalists Need to Save Democracy

Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America

Thanks to Ben Dattner, Daniel Kadishson, Ben Leiner Benny Lorenzo, Jessica Haller, and Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Frenkel, Anna Robling, Jourdan Urbach, and especially Matt Wallaert for thoughtful input.

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