General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Would you take a job where your employer forbid you to donate to a political campaign?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) November 5th, 2010

Keith Olbermann was just suspended from his job for not checking with his employer before making donations to three different congressional campaigns. While NBC News policy does not prohibit employees from donating to political candidates, it requires them to obtain prior approval from NBC News executives before doing so.

Should employers be allowed to make employees seek their permission before donating to a political campaign? Does it matter that it’s a job in the press? Does it matter than Olbermann is already known for being left of the Democrats?

Would you take a job where you had to inform your employer and seek their permission before donating to a campaign? What if it paid you a lot of money?

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30 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

If you work as an attorney in the public sector, for judges at times, or as a states’ attorney, you have to give up your membership in certain political organizations. I think this is the same effect, and I don’t think it’s inappropriate – as funds from the government go to interest groups, technically.

In certain industries, it may be necessary to do this. I think an employer should be able to fire anyone for a reason that’s non-discriminatory. If donating to a particular campaign for a high level employee was (1) against company interests or (2) creates a negative for the company with the public/investors, I don’t think there’s any problem with firing them.

Making this a policy to check with the employer is a way to prevent these harms, as well as apply the policy in an even-handed manner. (it could be an HR nightmare otherwise).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t like it offhand but I can see where in some situations it can be bad for the organization.

marinelife's avatar

The point is that Olbermann did take the job, did know the rules, and did not ask permission. He got what he deserved.

diavolobella's avatar

I find this troublesome for two reasons. First, it is claimed that he was suspended not for making the donations, but for not seeking prior approval. Requiring prior approval, however, implies that his boss gets to either approve or disapprove his choice to contribute. Therein lies the problem. The man has a right to donate to whomever he wishes. What reason could there be, other than wanting veto power, for this to be any of his bosses’ business? The only caveat to this is that he is a newscaster, and therefore supposed to be impartial. Other organizations could have gotten hold of the fact that he contributed and used that to suggest that his network is biased. That argument might actually hold water. Same thing with a public position, as @iamthemob has already pointed out. If I had been him, I would have just made my contributions anonymously. The big question is, did anyone else make any contributions to the other party and his boss overlooked them. Is the rule being applied evenhandedly?

I’m not sure if I would take such a job or not. It would depend on how much I wanted the job. I could always make my donations anonymously, if I felt I wanted to.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@iamthemob makes some very good points, took the wind out of my knee jerk reaction. yes, I know I mixed the metaphors but I still don’t like the concept in general, as I’d like to privately, without employer interference, support what I want to support. I would hate to think that this might extend into other areas, (maybe it does, I don’t know) for example a pharmaceutical company employee supporting a disease prevention charity. I know that’s an extreme example, just sayin’.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@diavolobella the point is that certain jobs require one to give up nominal rights. We have a situation in Connecticut where the State Ethics Board chairman gave nominal amounts (I think we’re talking a hundred dollars or so) to a couple of party organizations… and may lose his job over that. The agreement he entered into when he took his job was that he would make NO such contributions. (The sticking point seems to be that it was an unwritten agreement, based on his job being “above party politics”.)

So in response to @wundayatta‘s Q, yes, I would consider taking a job that required me to give up making some / all political contributions. It wouldn’t be a hardship to me, since I make none to begin with.

diavolobella's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I understand that, especially as it relates to public jobs and jobs with the understanding of controlling any personal bias. Part of me still inwardly resists the idea that if you take such a job, you have to give up those rights. I get it, but it makes me jibble a little inside. :) I don’t donate either

downtide's avatar

Some jobs require it. In the UK, that includes the armed forces and the police. But I would assume that anyone taking a job in one of these organisations is aware of the rule before signing up. What would defin’tely tick me off is not knowing. But in general I don’t think it’s permitted to discrimitate on the grounds of political afilliation.

perg's avatar

@diavolobella (and others) A couple of things worth noting: 1. You can’t make political donations anonymously, at least as an individual. 2. It is SOP for normal news organizations to forbid their employees to take any kind of role in activities they may cover, including making donations. Some old school journos even have a problem with journalists voting (a position I find extreme and unrealistic).

It’s tradition in the business to avoid “the appearance of a conflict of interest,” so much so that my last media employer forbid us to applaud at events (shows, sports events, etc) that we were covering.

I was totally OK with that. I saw the rationale. It has absolutely everything to do with your credibility as an individual reporter and the organization’s overall credibility. That Fox allows it only supports my point.

When it became untenable for me, personally, to continue keeping my opinions to myself, I quit. I didn’t try to game the system. It didn’t matter that I believed firmly that I could continue to cover the issues fairly – and believe I could do so to this day. I just felt that, while I was doing some public service by informing people about issues of importance, I wanted to take a more personal role in the things that matter to me. It was worth it to me to sacrifice my career and protect my now ex-employer’s reputation to do so.

CaptainHarley's avatar

No, no, no, no and no! Donating to a political, religious or social cause is as much a part of the first amendment as is freedom of speech itself. Employers have no business whatsoever meddling in any of this.

iamthemob's avatar

@CaptainHarley – My problem with your statement is that freedom of speech is about freedom from government intrusion on your speech. An employer has just as much a right to limit the kind of speech from you or in the work environment as you have to say it and choose to get fired.

If we accept your argument, then there’s no such thing as sexual harassment in the workplace if it’s purely verbal – it’s merely a coworker exercising their freedom of speech.

CaptainHarley's avatar

It’s a well established point of law that employees may not intimdate other employees or create an oppressive enviornment, and that the employer has a resposibility to end it if it is created. That’s not an issue. What IS an issue is whether an employer has the right to control for whom an employee campaigns and to whom he or she donates. I would love to see a court case on this issue.

YARNLADY's avatar

Yes, as long as it was clearly spelled out in the employment contract. Many employment contracts have restrictions, and the employee needs to comply.

CaptainHarley's avatar

You cannot contractually abrogate the rights you are guaranteed by the Constitution. All such contracts are automatically null and void.

iamthemob's avatar

No rights are abrogated. They haven’t signed anything saying that if they do say something, they owe anyone anything, or are punished civilly. The risk is only losing their job – and this is a common, common thing in many ways.

Having a job is not a right. I think it should be…but it’s not the case. Therefore, if your employer says “you cannot behave in x way or say y in public or do z while you have this job” you have choices:

(1) attempt to negotiate, and failing that
(3) reject the offer, or
(2) accept the offer and behave in the manner described, or
(4) accept the job, ignore the provisions, and hope you don’t get caught – and if you do, expect to be fired.

This is, in essence, the freedom of contract.

YARNLADY's avatar

@CaptainHarley I believe it is similar to using Fluther means you don’t get to claim free speech to get out of following the guidelines. If the actions of an employee can be seen as the company is endorsing that action, they can prohibit it. Religious employers, for instance, can require their employees to refrain from joining anti-religious organizations.

jerv's avatar

I have a long list of ludicrous sexual acts/positions that I would recommend for said employer.

The way I see it, employers like that are fucktarded enough that I probably wouldn’t want to deal with them anyways, and likely wants to interfere with my life in other ways. It’s one of those places where I would either quit or get fired in short order anyways, so why the hell not?

@CaptainHarley Is it a bad sign when so many people are so desperate for a paycheck that they will sell their souls?

NaturallyMe's avatar

Well, in principle i don’t agree with this at all, and i would not take the job had i any interest in politics or political donations. But since i don’t give a hoot about donating to any political party, it probably won’t affect me, and if the job was good, interesting and paid well, i’d take it. Mind you, even if i did have an interest in politics, i may still take the job – if the benefits of having it outweigh the disadvantages of not being able to donate.

CaptainHarley's avatar

At least it would make a great court case. I would take the job too, but continue to contribute to whatever political cause I damned well please. Then, when they fire me for it, I would sue them out of their underwear! : D

perg's avatar

@jerv @CaptainHarley Employers can and do have very good reasons why they restrict certain activities of their employees. I used to work for the largest newsgathering agency in the world, which had a century-plus-old reputation for objectivity and fairness that no factual claim could be made against. As an employee, I took a lot of pride in upholding that reputation, which included being willing to keep my opinions to myself when I interviewed politicians, murderers, scam artists, business moguls, professional athletes and other people whose activities were often polarizing. I HAD opinions and nobody stopped me talking about them to people I could trust. Come to that, nobody stopped me from talking about them to the wide world – except me. I made a promise when I took the job and I kept it. If I’d felt strongly enough to break that promise, I would have had to face the consequences. When I got to the point I knew I couldn’t keep that promise and be at peace with myself, I found another career.

and then I got involved in politics and realized it wasn’t such a great thing after all

perg's avatar

And by the way, since there seems to be the same confusion here as everywhere on the Internet about the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of speech, let’s review the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It doesn’t say, “Your boss,” “the local newspaper’s comments function,” “Fluther” or “your granny” who may smack your hand if you call someone a fucktard in her house. They can set any restrictions they please on your relationship – it’s up to you whether you want to abide by them.

jerv's avatar

@perg Maybe I’m just a little bitter after being told that I could not get an absentee ballot for the 1996 general election since, and I quote, “Voting for your boss is a conflict of interest.”. -,I was in the Navy at the time.—Since then, having my employer have anything to do with my personal political beliefs or the exercise thereof has been a sticking point for me.

My wife often recites a quote that I cannot properly attribute right now;
“Learn to live on lentils and you won’t have to be subservient to the king.”

You are correct that others can make whatever rules they want, but in practice, we don’t have as much choice over whether we want to abide by them as you imply, especially not these days. Well, unless you consider being homeless and starving a choice, but there are many who do abide by the arbitrary rules and still wind up there. But the point is that our forefathers didn’t fight for the neo-fuedal clusterfuck we have now, and nobody has the right to tell us what to believe, politically or religiously.

iamthemob's avatar

@jerv – good point – but I think that those issues are better addressed through discussions about proper corporate regulation rather than first amendment rights. That adds a lot of clarity to the issue, though.

perg's avatar

@jerv In the episode you describe, somebody told you a gigantic lie. Being in the military is no impediment to voting. In fact, vote totals in some districts of my state have been delayed in a few elections this decade when a lot of our large military population was deployed and we were waiting for all the absentee ballots to arrive.

jerv's avatar

@perg ~ Employers never lie. They are always honest and ethical.

Seriously, I know that because I voted in ‘94 {when I was in a different command) but there is a huge difference between what is correct/legal and the little thing many people call “reality”. And there are a lot of people who don’t acknowledge that there is a difference between the two, which I find rather disconcerting.

perg's avatar

@jerv If you understood you could vote and are mad at one employer/supervisor/whoever it was, I don’t understand how your anecdote relates to the question at hand.

jerv's avatar

@perg You don’t understand how management can violate company policy? Or are you saying that you don’t understand how having superiors with an agenda can be an issue? I thought that this question was about working for someone who tries to further their agenda by messing with their employee’s political actions (voting, donating…). Seems relevant to me.

perg's avatar

@jerv I do understand how management can violate company policy. I don’t understand how you feel it applies in a question about Keith Olbermann – who violated a pre-existing company policy – or whether any of us would take a job that comes with similar restrictions on the front end. Those are the two elements of the question that was asked. Managerial malfeasance is not at issue in either part. The policy existed, he violated it. The policy exists, would you take the job? Your personal anecdote doesn’t apply in either situation.

jerv's avatar

@perg Had I known at the time, I would not have taken that job, and that experience (amongst others) has made me read the fine print on everything so that I never find myself in a position where I get screwed over by some hidden clause.

Lets let others speak now; we’ve hogged the spotlight long enough.

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