Citizens United

The perils of political talk at work

September 4, 2012: 2:01 PM ET

The First Amendment applies only to government staffers, not private sector workers. Be mindful of what you say while on the job.

By Jonathan A. Segal

FORTUNE – With one political convention over and another just starting, the presidential campaign will dominate not just the news but also many of our conversations until (and after) election day. Of course, some of those conversations are likely to take place at work. Indeed, many business leaders have already started to talk, and on polarizing issues to boot.

We all know about the relatively recent imbroglio over the comments made by the president of Chick-fil-A in opposition to same sex marriage. On the other side of the issue, Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have given $2.5 million to support same sex marriage rights on the ballot this fall in Washington state.

Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz has called for corporations to withhold campaign contributions to incumbents in Washington until Congress strikes a long-term debt deal. Of course, this invites the next question: what do you cut? No consensus there.

MORE: Listen up, biz leaders: It's time to rethink everything

In a sense, the Supreme Court has given this activity a green light by way of its Citizens United decision, which held that corporations and unions are like people and have First Amendment rights to make financial contributions. And senior executives who own or run companies have the power to do the same. The board of directors can likely put a stop to this activity if they see the political activities delivering a blow to the business. More

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