Political Boss

Without question, one of the oldest games in American politics is the habit of employers–public and private–to use the implicit or explicit threat of job losses to pressure employees into backing the “right” political candidate. Civil service reforms over the years has reduced the prevalence of this practice in the public sector, though it persists in some places, and for some categories of “unprotected” (usually politically-appointed) employees. But it’s never really been reined in when it comes to private-sector employers, ranging from highly specific shakedowns all the way up to the vague threat of “job-creators” to Americans generally that they won’t have jobs if they don’t ensure “pro-business” policies and elected officials.

Legend has it that the big-time, overt shakedown of employees reached its apex in 1896, when Ohio’s Mark Hanna raised epic amounts of money (and votes) for the presidential campaign of William McKinley by encouraging business leaders to use every power at their disposal to mobilize dollars and ballots. That was a long time ago. But as Alec MacGillis explains in a fine investigative piece at TNR, the Hanna tradition lives on in the personage of Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, an Ohio coal company that has provided a mandatory-employee-attendance backdrop for a major Romney speech (also featured in ads aimed at Coal Country), and where quasi-mandatory employee contributions to friendly (and usually Republican) pols is a very-well-established tradition.

You should read the whole thing, but the old-school flavor of Murray’s internal fundraising is impressive:

Murray’s exhortations demonstrate more attention to ideology than to Strunk & White. In August 2011, Murray urged employees to attend a $2,500 fundraiser for Rick Perry, “likely to be the Republican Nominee to defeat the destructive Barack Obama.” And for the unconvinced, he attached a “brief, partial listing of the destruction that Barack Obama has reeked.” Murray employees and their households came through, becoming Perry’s second-largest source for funds in the entire country.

After Perry dropped out, Murray switched to Romney. In his April letter for the fund-raiser the next month, he told employees, “America needs business and job creation, not the ruthless destruction that we are seeing from Barack Obama and his Democrats supporters, whom are Hollywood characters, liberal elitists, radical environmentalists, unionists, and Americans who do not want to work.”

Nice. Remember this story next time you hear somebody complaining about the “political bosses” of “Chicago.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.