When a vote isn’t a vote

One of the greatest points made in Larry Lessig‘s book, “Republic, Lost” is that corruption may be evident by appearance even when no actual laws have been broken, and in the case of our government, one of the ways this shows up most profoundly is when we erode the fundamental principle that each citizen’s vote in the Unites States of America carries exactly the same weight as each other citizen’s vote.

Sounds pretty simple, but is it true?

Lessig points out with great effect that when money starts changing hands, most visibly in the form of campaign donations, specific people and corporations begin to lose their anonymity with respect to our elected officials.  In short, if I write a big enough check to my Congressman, I may not actually be entitled to expect him to vote the way I’d like, but I can be sure he’ll know who I am and how I feel about positions that are important to me.  This, as Lessig points out, pretty quickly starts to look a hell of a lot like a duck, if you catch my drift.

But that’s small-potatoes stuff.  I read an article today that absolutely blew me away.  There’s a fella named David Siegel who’s not a big Obama fan.  So much so is he not a fan that he sent a letter to the 7,000 employees of Westgate Resorts explaining that if Obama is reelected, this would represent a threat to some of the jobs that these 7,000 people presumably wish to keep.  In short, Siegel implies, vote against Obama, or else.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I’m frankly floored that this is even legal.  Beyond legality, however, I’m troubled that a CEO acting as an agent of a corporation would express political motivations this overtly.  It’s not unusual for CEOs or even entire corporations to be pretty forthcoming about their political affiliations, of course, but as citizens, I believe we should give some thought to what, exactly, this is doing to the power of our individual votes.

It’s clearly troubling all by itself when corporations and big-time campaign donors (who happen to represent corporations) wield undo influence by virtue of these donations.  That’s bad enough.  But when a single individual attempts to strong-arm 7,000 employees into voting with him (or else!), we’re seriously at risk of losing any claim of democracy at all.

Again, if this isn’t illegal as hell, I’d really like to know why it’s not — beyond the cynical explanation that keeps popping into my head.  Anybody know the answer?  I’d love to hear it.

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