How Far Left Infiltrated Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It
The radical left has infiltrated corporate America and is using big business to promote a political agenda.
Danhof joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the ways in which Stop Corporate Tyranny is working to end the left’s influence on American companies, and how you can be a part of the movement for change.
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Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Justin Danhof, director of the Free Enterprise Project, general council for National Center for Public Policy Research, and a member of the brand new coalition called Stop Corporate Tyranny. Justin, thanks so much for being here.
Justin Danhof: Hey, thanks. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you, Virginia.
Allen: So today we are talking about the launch of the new conservative coalition website called Stop Corporate Tyranny. You are one of the leading voices of this coalition. So if you would just go ahead and explain what exactly this website is and what your mission is.
Danhof: Yeah, sure. So first, a little background is probably helpful for the audience. Directing the Free Enterprise Project for the last 10-plus years, we’ve been screaming from the rooftops to conservatives largely that: Pay attention, big business is no longer with us. Big business is advocating against traditional values, conservative values at a record pace.
Well, fast forward to last year for the very first time in the Gallup polling, Gallup does polling on cultural lanes every year, for the very first time ever big business was underwater with conservatives.
So we’ve been working for about a year-plus to try and build a coalition of conservatives that are willing to engage with big business and fight back against woke capital, fight back against companies that are taking actions that are anathema to conservative and traditional values. So, that’s how we’ve gotten to the point that conservatives are awake now.
I like to say we’re awakened to the woke and we want to do something about it. So, that’s what stopcorporatetyranny.org is all about. It’s a one-stop shop for a couple things.
First, it’s for education on [environmental, social, and governance] and woke because there’s a reason we got here. There’s a reason we got to a place where corporate America is the mouthpiece for the political left, where corporate America is the political muscle, in many instances, and the ones that are carrying the water for the political left.
And so first we let folks know how the heck we got here. And part of it is conservatives were asleep at the switch. Let’s be honest.
But we’re not just going to grouse about the problems, we are an engagement coalition and we want to engage the grassroots of America, the citizens out there who feel helpless to do anything about the cancel culture. They feel helpless against the woke mob, because it’s like trying to drink out of a water hose.
So we’re giving you tools that will allow you to directly engage with business leaders that are taking actions that offend your values. So that’s what the website’s for.
I’m super proud of the coalition. I’m proud that we have academics, authors, conservative movement thought leaders, former business folks. It’s a large and growing coalition and look, it’s desperately needed.
Open up any newspaper, turn on the news for five seconds, the lead everywhere seems to be big business joining with the left to do X, Y, Z, L, M, N, O, P, right? And so, it couldn’t be more timely.
And frankly, I pray that we’re just not too late. … The left’s march through the institutions obviously went through mainstream media, academia, Hollywood, many of our churches. Business is the most recent that they’ve been marching through. And let’s just hope that the closing gambit hasn’t closed.
Allen: Yeah, certainly. So if we go back 10 years, I think very few people expected corporations, whether it be Facebook or Coca-Cola, to take a policy position on different pieces of legislation. So what changed in America?
Danhof: Well, I call it the “tri-part takeover of corporate America.” And the easiest way to think about this is, think about how the left took over college campuses, and it’s the same exact paradigm. So when I say by tri-part, it was a top-down, bottom-up, and outside-in takeover. We’ll start with the top.
On American colleges, what did they do? They set up this thing called tenure. Well, tenure was supposed to be about academic freedom. Well, tenure turned into left’s blackball [of] conservative and traditional-minded professors from getting lifetime tenureship. And that’s how we’ve gotten to the point where there’s dozens of college campuses with zero Republican professors.
Well, it’s the same thing, the left realized, “Well, wait a minute, if we want to change corporate direction, let’s change out the leadership. Let’s change out the boards.” And so the left went about co-opting and, in some instances, straight up buying the search firms that large companies use to identify board members.
It’s gotten to the point that one year I was talking with the general counsel of one of the largest companies in America, because I filed a shareholder resolution, and I said, “Hey, my resolution was calling for diversity on their board of directors, but not diversity of skin surface characteristic, diversity of viewpoint.”
And the general council called me—and I never give away his name or the company that he works for—but he said, “Justin, you’re … over the target on a problem that you may not realize how big it is.”
“Well, how big is it?”
He said, “The search firms that companies my size use have all been co-opted by the left.” He said to me, “They’ll bring us 13 dyed-in-the-wool liberals for an open board seat before we’ll get somebody that we would even consider a moderate.”
It was very intentional what the left did. And that’s how we’ve gotten to the point where the top part of corporate America leans very much to the political left.
Now, the bottom-up takeover, this is, again, very akin to college campuses, and especially toward graduate schools where if you’re a conservative student and you know your grade is beholden to a professor that hates your worldview, why would you speak up? Why would you speak your truth? You don’t want to get canceled by your professor. You’re beholden to your professor for your grades. And so many conservatives on college campuses self-censor.
We’ve reached that point in corporate America. If you’re working at Coca-Cola these days, and you don’t want to go to the training that demands that you be less white if you’re a white person, you can’t speak up for fear of being canceled.
When I engage with the C-suite folks all across industries—this is not just Big Tech and Hollywood folks—I ask them, why do you take liberal position X, Y, and Z? It doesn’t matter. Why do you fund Planned Parenthood? Why did you oppose President [Donald] Trump’s orders on immigration and travel and anywhere in between? They all say the same thing. It’s like it buzzes in my ear. They say, “Justin, that’s what our employees want us to do.”
And of course, that’s not true of the broad subset of all of their employees, but what’s happened is the woke employees, the ones who feel emboldened on college campuses, they feel emboldened at the workplace as well. They’ll demand the critical race theory trainings, they’ll demand the LGBT trainings, and things like this.
But yeah, conservatives are self-censoring all across business campuses, just like they are on college campuses.
Then, the outside-in, that’s the world that I live in. So we file things called shareholder resolutions because we saw a little over a decade ago, we looked at the landscape of corporate America and saw that any resolution on any social or policy issue that was being filed with the company was being filed by a left-wing organization.
And to this day, we’re still the only organization on the right that engages companies by buying up shares of their stock and offering shareholder resolutions.
If I put up a pie chart of the disparate amount of liberal money and liberal groups that are on this, you wouldn’t even see my sliver. So the left is still actively engaged as outside-in and as shareholder activists, that’s just one part of the outside-in.
Liberal groups also rate companies. And these companies then get beholden to these ratings to the point now that Fortune 500 companies, this would kind of blow your mind, Virginia, they have entire staffs, not just one or two people, but entire staffs at most Fortune 500 companies that their only job is to reply to [environmental, social, and governance] survey questions.
Now, we’re not sending in any questions from the right. So they’re only responding to and then changing corporate behavior from surveys and questionnaires by the left, and then the left uses those to rate companies. So again, they’re moving the needle and we’re not even playing the game.
Allen: Wow. And it sounds like fear plays a really big factor in this narrative because for the head of that business or corporation that maybe is more moderate, but he’s saying to you, “No, this is what my employees want.” It’s interesting that, as the head, he doesn’t feel comfortable standing his own ground on these issues, but feels like he really has to bend to what the far left is asking of him.
Danhof: Well, if you think about it, that’s why the left uses business so well, because it recognizes a couple of things.
First, businesses are more amenable to pressure than most politicians. Most politicians on the Hill, they live in a gerrymandered district. And so it’s very hard to get them to move off of issues. But companies, they literally have a fiduciary legal responsibility to their shareholders first of all. And they’ve all now announced that they’re going to have responsibilities to all sorts of stakeholders.
So that’s how we get to the point where we are in the state of Georgia right now, where the last count—that I haven’t had time to go through the whole list of—is that we have 1,119 companies that are somehow out opposing things like voter ID, … they’re opposing voter integrity.
Think about that. They are literally working to corrupt American elections, and that’s the stance we find corporate America in right now.
Allen: Justin, there’s obviously a lot of debates on Capitol Hill, for example, with the Equality Act. How does that usher into this conversation with corporations and big business?
Danhof: Yeah. I think that, again, most folks, their mind might be blown by this, but do you realize 400 of the leading companies in the United States of America are pressing the leadership in Congress to pass the Equality Act, they’re lobbying for it, they back it completely?
Four hundred leading American companies want to end women’s sports as we know it and cancel religious freedom for Americans. Think about that.
This is, again, conservatives are now awake to this, but man, were we asleep at the switch for a very, very long time. And part of it is because of the lie of the, quote, “free market system.”
So many conservatives say, “Oh, well, the free market’s going to work itself out.” Well, we don’t live in an Ayn Rand novel. We live in more of a corporatocracy than a free market, where big business and big government [are] together teaming up. That’s the scariest proposition of all because the elite power with which that would wield to change the lives of everyday Americans.
So, yeah, I think that there’s a second problem with conservative instinct that has led us down this path. And that is, take any action that we don’t like—we can stick with Coca-Cola and their “be less white” training or their opposition to voter integrity in Georgia.
Conservatives instinctively say, “Well, I’m just going to boycott. I’m done with that company.” And they go on Facebook and they put up a post that their friends and their family all see that all agree with them anyway. And then three days later, they’re driving and they stop at a 7-Eleven, and they pick up a Diet Coke because the history of the conservative boycott of business that offends our value is a history of epic failures.
It’s never worked once. It’s not going to work next time, so just stop telling me you’re going to boycott because you’re just simply not. And even if you do on an individual level, guess what? Collectively, it’s not going to work.
So that’s a big problem, is that there’s this mindset out there that we can just—again, how many companies are on the wrong side of the issue in Georgia? As I said, last count, it’s nearing 1,200. So you’re telling me when you’re going shopping, you’re going to bring a list with you of those 1,200 products and brands and you’re going to sift through it when you’re at the grocery store? Good luck.
You need a team of individuals to help you with that, an entire team to help you with that boycott, if you want it to be successful. It’s just never going to happen. We can’t boycott our way out of the problem.
Allen: So then what are people like me then supposed to do? Because it does feel like, “OK, I vote with my dollars.”
And you mentioned Coca-Cola, obviously there’s kind of a firestorm going on right now in Atlanta as Major League Baseball has moved the All-Star Game and Coca-Cola came out against the new Georgia voting legislation. So, we’re hearing from different lawmakers that are saying, “Don’t buy Coke products.” But if that’s not the right response, what is the right response?
Danhof: Well, here’s the dirty little secret: The left doesn’t boycott either. The left engages. The answer in a single word is engagement.
You talked about voting. Well, there’s thousands of votes every year that take place and they’re at corporate annual shareholder meetings. They’re for boards of directors and shareholder proposals. And what happens at those is the equivalent of a red state election that goes blue every year because conservatives couldn’t be bothered to vote.
So if we all care about the vote for and voter integrity for political offices, we’re not even showing up to vote our dollars. So those are actual votes that take place for these woke board members that get 99% of the vote because the left has coalesced to make sure that their people vote with their money.
So at any given annual meeting, 30% to 40% of the vote, people don’t vote. And the evidence is very clear that those individuals and those broker non-votes, those are conservatives. Because if you look at the results of the elections for corporate leaders, for corporate shareholder proposals, there’s an outsized amount of liberal [environmental, social, and governance] proposals that receive record support.
I’ll give you one great example. Last year, there was a shareholder proposal filed by a far-left organization at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting—Chevron, American energy company—that ask[ed] it to align its policies with the Paris climate accord. It got 53% of the vote.
Do 53% of Chevron’s shareholders really want to mothball the company and end it, which is of course what that would do? No. But the left got all of their people to get in there and vote. And conservatives just stayed home.
So there’s one great example of what we need to do. We need to take back the corporate ballot box. We need to engage that franchise. Because again, politics is downstream from culture.
We all get engaged in politics, but it’s downstream from culture. That’s why the left worked so hard to change the culture, because you don’t always need to change a politician to have real change and real impact.
And the other things are simple. So if you’re not an investor, what do you do? Well, guess what? There’s not just investor relations offices at all these companies, there’s this thing called customer relations.
If you’re truly going to individually boycott, OK, if that’s your values, I’m not going to tell anyone to go against their values, but call the company and let them know why you’re no longer engaging with their products or services.
Call customer relations and say, “Hey, by the way, I’m done with you and here’s why.” Email them. If you’re going to post on Facebook and you’re going to post on Twitter and that you still really want to do that, well, post on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, tweet at them, don’t do it in silence because it’s not going to have any impact or any effect.
Allen: Yeah. Are there any examples of conservatives successfully getting a corporation or a big business to change their ways after they were kind of moving in that really progressive direction?
Danhof: Oh, absolutely. As the cancel culture bounds forward seemingly unabated, through shareholder resolutions and negotiations of those resolutions, I’ve got more than a dozen major companies that have changed their corporate policy, specifically their nondiscrimination policies, to say that “we won’t discriminate against any of our employees based on viewpoint.”
And so that’s put in there to protect the conservative employees who do want to speak their truth, that their company has agreed they won’t cancel them for just holding and espousing traditional or conservative values.
So, yeah, those are those protracted changes that benefit the culture and benefit, specifically, over the last check, 5.5 million American employees have that protection now based on just myself filing some shareholder resolutions.
Allen: So Stop Corporate Tyranny is providing some really practical ways that individuals can stand up and push back on this woke agenda. About every week, there will be a new action posted that individuals can take to be a part of the kind of movement or pushing back against big corporate tyranny. The latest action was to tell Facebook and Twitter to stay out of politics.
So explain a little bit more about these actions. How individuals can get involved? What is the time commitment, etc.?
Danhof: A couple of clicks. If you have time to go to Stop Corporate Tyranny, right in the middle of our website, you just click through and we’ve done all the work for you.
There’s just literally a button that says, “Take action now,” and you click it twice. And guess what? It populates an email to Mark Zuckerberg, to Joel Kaplan, to Jennifer Newstead—these are big leaders at Facebook—Sheryl Sandberg, the boards members of these companies.
We already tracked down, we already got all of their contact information. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is click through that you want to communicate with them, you’re outraged over the politicization of their platforms.
We’ve got the messaging in there for you. You can then tweet it and put it on Facebook so that your friends and family that you engage with on social media can see, “Hey, they just engaged with the companies, I guess I can, too.”
So, yeah, we’re giving you pre-populated social media posts that’ll help you. You can customize them if you want. But yeah, it’s super, super simple. And I don’t think folks know that it’s this easy to contact companies. You don’t have to just turn your disillusionment with woke business into despair. You can take action.
Allen: Yeah. And I think that avoiding despair is really the key. Are you optimistic that through the work of efforts like Stop Corporate Tyranny that we can turn this around and that America’s big corporations can actually return to at least just being neutral on these policy issues?
Danhof: Yeah. I’m very optimistic that companies can get back to neutral. If they’re hearing from the left constantly, and they start hearing from the right constantly, maybe, just maybe, some business leaders will decide to take the off-ramp in the middle.
Like, “OK, well, I can’t satisfy that group and that group, so why don’t I satisfy, I don’t know, my employees and my shareholders by focusing on our products and services and building out the best brand that we possibly can?”
But again, how do we do it? We approximate what the left did because they did [it] in plain sight. They gave us the roadmap. This is how you influence corporate America. It’s just up to conservatives to pick up a battle plan and engage and look, come to stopcorporatetyranny.org, we will make it very easy for you to engage companies. …
There’s any number of targets out there, as we’re all now well aware, of corporations that are taking actions and anathemas to our values. And they’re doing so at the behest of the political left because they’ve been there for so long and we just need to start engaging at the same level.