What Role Should Politics Play in Your Business?

Perhaps you haven't heard that there is a presidential election in 2012. In that case feel free to subscribe to my blog and move on to the next post, you're in no danger of getting sucked in to the hoopla.

If on the other hand you can't wait for the primaries to get started, now would be a good time to think about what role your politics should play in your business. The time to decide is now, not when a local notable that you would like to accommodate is pressing you for support.

Let's not be coy and act like we need to reason through a process to conclude that you should keep politics out of your business. It's clear common sense. Unless your business is to specifically serve a political need, your involvement in politics will only harm your business.

Let me elaborate further. Just because you think your customers are mostly of a particular political persuasion does not mean you have permission to try and align your business with their politics. You would be surprised how many Republicans buy art and how many Democrats frequent gun shops. If through signs or your conversation you advocate your preference, you probably won't hear any objections. But you will make your customers question their commercial relationship with your business. Even if only 20% of your customers are affected, do you really want to jeopardize a fifth of your business?

Consider a bit more. How much do you personally want to be associated with partisan politics? Do you contribute? Show up at events? Make endorsements?

You have to draw the line somewhere, being in business is not a bar to voting or having an opinion. Personally, I avoid political conversation completely outside of close personal settings. When someone insists on commenting, I usually simply listen or engage with vague platitudes.

This doesn't mean you're trying to keep a secret. People will sort of know and suspect. But just as a person of strong religious beliefs who doesn't preach earns quiet respect, the same happens in politics. There is an assumption of strength in people who live their beliefs rather than talk about them.

You say your business is affected by the various councils, legislatures and agencies across the country? That's an even better reason to steer clear of partisan politics. Stick to your issues. A line to be aware of is the one between issue advocacy and partisan politics. There are a great number of lobbyists who advocate for disparate issues that may well end up on opposite sides of a party divide. You will have more credibility and access in a nonpartisan role. The vast majority of issues voted on are decided by interests and logic, not political ideology.

What about your employees? They have an absolute right to their political opinions and advocations, outside of work. Within the workplace excessive advocation could be considered harassment, so it's probably wise to have a policy (and follow it) on political expression on the job. A related issue crops up when some businesspeople try and circumvent contribution limits by funneling contributions through third parties at work. Besides being potentially illegal, there are databases that track contributions by employment, and it becomes quite obvious if a business is heavily skewed in the political contributions of its employees.

The genius of America is not creating a political system for everyone to participate, but in limiting the role of politics so that participation is not required. Early observers often commented the absence of rigid political divisions and the tendency of Americans to engage in commercial rather than political pursuits. You have a right to pursue your interests and not be involved, to not have an opinion. It's actually kind of liberating, and good for business.

Image credit: annnna_ on Flickr