Thursday, July 10, 2008

Courting political war of Epic proportions

This will probably be my last post on Epic and WMC. But there are two more things I want to say. One is ironic and the other is, I hope, instructive.

Let's see what we can learn first. Bloggers and columnists have fought over whether Epic's announcement that it would try not to use vendors who support WMC is a secondary boycott. I tried to explain why I think that's a useful description and anticipated that those who, for some reason, hate the term might want to redefine the dispute as one between Epic and WMC supporters. To his credit, Paul Soglin takes up the point here.

The problem is that this deprives the term secondary boycott of any meaning. You can define any dispute that way. You can say, for example, that your dispute is with those who enable a stingy employer or a despised country like Israel by doing business with it or with those foster the bad policies of the Republicans or Democrats by being a member and participating in their governance.

But to think that solves the problem is formalistic and glosses over what may be problematic about a "secondary boycott" in the sense that I and other Epic critics have used it.

The point here is that Epic is saying that it won't do business with people for a reason that is extraneous to what normally would govern the relationship between them. It doesn't have a problem with J.P. Cullen as a builder. It has a problem with the politics that J.P. Cullen execs support.

Soglin argues that WMC "is" its board members, i.e., they make policy. The problem is that the same can be said of any organization with a board or large contributors. Under Soglin's view, folks who are upset with Summerfest for shutting down the Army's VAE should boycott Rite Hite and other companies with execs on the Summerfest board.

There is, as I explore below, a distinction between a corporation or partnership and its managers or partners.* But, more fundamentally,even if you want to view WMC as indistinct from it members, Epic proposes to punish Cullen and others for their political stance. People may have the right to do so, but do we really want to encourage a world in which many of our relationships are politicized?

Maybe Mayor Soglin thinks so. His contemporaries used to say that the personal is the political. Perhaps the commercial is as well. In response to an earlier post here, one thoughtful commentator (Amy, Esq.)made just that argument.

But I am not persuaded for a variety of reasons, one being that it will tend to drive people out of public life. Why be upfront about your beliefs or participate in public debate or try to promote what are, by your lights, good policies if it's going to hurt business? The other is it will tend to magnify our political differences and result in a political war of all against all.

Soglin think that for Epic to fail to act in this way would be unilateral disarmament:

Halliburton owns the vice presidency. A manufacturer threatens to leave the state if it does not get tax breaks. And WMC lobbies like hell at your and my expense.

That coercive power can be used for good or evil. Listening to Schweber, it sounds like unilateral disarmamanent is the solution. Businesses that are good should not use what power they have.


Putting aside the reference to businesses that "are good" (which I think gives away the game that this is about anything but politics), I am unaware that WMC has called on a politically based boycott of anybody. If they have, they should not have. Paul's "businesses that are good" can participate in the political process. They can set up PACs, give to the Greater Wisconsin Committee and, as he puts it, "lobby like hell." They can argue that, without light rail or higher taxes and all the good things that they supposedly bring, they may need to relocate to Vermont.

And, if they do get involved in this way, I don't propose that they ought to be shunned. Heck, I'd buy lots of Ben and Jerry's if my doc and the Reddess would let me.

And now for the irony.

Let's say that I don't want to politicize all my relationships but I think that the tone of the Supreme Court race was just beyond the pale. I don't want another race where organizations with an axe to grind bundle money from unknown sources and run ads which unfairly portray the role and actions of a judge.

Maybe - if I really believe this - I'll take the extraordinary step of boycotting those who have, in Epic's words, "supported with current management" those who ran these ads.

But one of the companies that I have to boycott may well turn out to be Epic Systems Corporation. As Lance Burri and the Cap Times point out, Epic CEO Judith Faulkner gave a large amount of money to One Wisconsin Now Action. We know that One Wisconsin Now was involved in the Supreme Court race - pushing a variety of fairly dubious attacks on Gableman that were echoed in ads run by the Greater Wisconsin Committee. GWC's ads were just as bad - if not worse - than those run by WMC. Did Faulkner give to such groups?

Of course we don't know. No one does.


So as Mayor Soglin says - let's pierce the veil. Given that Epic claims that its decision was about ethics and not politics, shouldn't it confirm that none of its current management supports - or has supported - the Greater Wisconsin Committe, One Wisconsin Now or any of the other "shadowy" groups that ran anti-Gableman ads? Will it "try" not to do business with those who have? I mean, after all, it's all about ethics and not politics.

*And now for some bonus irony. Paul Soglin says that WMC is its board members. He says, for example, that "Quarles & Brady is WMC" because one of its partners serve on the board.

But, at least at one point in its existence, on Soglin's view, Quarles & Brady was also the Greater Wisconsin Committee because my old friend David Cross was on its board and even served on its President. Dave has been with Quarles for 27 years. I don't know if he still serves on the GWC board, but you get the point. Quarles & Brady is not the political actions of its partners. If it is, then it apparently has multiple personality disorder.

16 comments:

gnarlytrombone said...

But to think that solves the problem is formalistic and glosses over what may be problematic about a "secondary boycott" in the sense that I and other Epic critics have used it.

Schweber started this whole subargument by calling Epic's actions illegal. That's why Soglin's response was legalistic.

It has a problem with the politics that J.P. Cullen execs support.

Epic is still doing business with J.P. Cullen, and J.P. Cullen's execs still support politics, policies and politicians that Epic doesn't like.

Anonymous said...

Your statement that Epic execs should reveal if they have donated to groups opposing WMC is irrelevant, for the simple reason that the money would have been given PERSONALLY. This is in sharp contrast to the WMC, which is supported by COMPANIES with COMPANY money (like J.P. Cullen and Q&B).

All the conservative complaining about the mythical "secondary boycott" sickens me. You can't have it both ways. If a company is a part of a group like WMC, which engages itself in politics, they need to be willing to deal with the backlash.

Rick Esenberg said...

"Formalistic" is not the same as "legalistic." What Soglin is trying to do is change the description of the dispute so that he can characterize it as primary, rather than secondary. The fact remains that what's going on here is an attempt to penalize someone commercially for their politcal position. While Cullen may still support political postions that Epic does not like (although I don't know this to be true), it apparently does so at Epic's sufferance.

Your statement that Epic execs should reveal if they have donated to groups opposing WMC is irrelevant, for the simple reason that the money would have been given PERSONALLY. This is in sharp contrast to the WMC, which is supported by COMPANIES with COMPANY money (like J.P. Cullen and Q&B).

I don't know that this is true and I can't imagine how you could either. But even if that's the case, Epic says that it wants its vendors to cease supporting WMC "with current management." Cullen served on the WMC board as a citizen just as, for example, Dave Cross and Jim Friedman serve (or served) on the boards of GWC and WMC respectively as citizens.

Moreover, Epic itself is putting its using its corporate dollars to accomplish its political purpose, although I would be far more impressed if it announced that it wouldn't accept business from companies that support WMC (are, for example, Humana and Gunderson Epic client?). It's one thing to throw your weight around on someone else and quite another to refuse to accept tainted WMC-supporting money.

Dad29 said...

Your statement that Epic execs should reveal if they have donated to groups opposing WMC is irrelevant, for the simple reason that the money would have been given PERSONALLY. This is in sharp contrast to the WMC, which is supported by COMPANIES with COMPANY money (like J.P. Cullen and Q&B).

Umnnnhhhh...really?

Membership in WMC comes at a cost which is nominal--certainly not in the $20K++ range which was reported to be Ms. Faulkner's donation to OWN.

Rick's argument is persuasive. If Ms. Faulkner wishes to politicize business, she will have only 'politically correct' suppliers. That comes with more than a little risk.

But it's her business.

On the other hand, Anony, if that game gets turned around and, as Rick hints, hospitals and clinics decide that Epic's systems are fine, but "politically incorrect," what has Ms. Faulkner gained?

Anonymous said...

The size of the contribution has no bearing on the situation, but I think that the source of the contribution does have bearing. If you can't see the difference, there is not a whole lot I can do for you.

I don't see how anybody can compain about, WMC's behalf about politicizing business. WMC made the conscious decision to enter the political arena.

Jack Lohman said...

Looks to me like WMC is owned and operated by the insurance industry. Why else would it oppose useful health care reform and also sell health care insurance on the side. But the members have as much right to terminate their membership (as I did) as Ms. Faulkner has to support companies with agreeable politics.

Or did we give up on "free market" everywhere but health care?

Pete Gruett said...

The fact remains that what's going on here is an attempt to penalize someone commercially for their politcal position. - WRONG.

Epic made very clear that their action wasn't based on WMC's politics but its ethics. WMC now claims it opposed Justice Butler for his record on corporate liability yet their campaign against him focused on gross distortions of the criminal justice system. There was no call for accountability within the ranks of WMC's members so one can assume them to endorse this kind of duplicity.
Epic has never said anything about anybody's politics or given any indication that they make business decisions based on politics. Dishonest dealing is an entirely different thing.

James Rowen said...

The more there is on blogs andin traditional media about the WMC, the better the public is informed about what the group is, does, wants and gets.

That's a good thing, because individuals will come to understand that what the WMC is, does, wants and gets is grossly-laden with company managers' self-interest.

Rick Esenberg said...

Epic made very clear that their action wasn't based on WMC's politics but its ethics.

Then it ought to want to get at those who supported the GWC because WEAC and the trial lawyers and the casinos and the public employee unions weren't concerned with Gableman's sentencing practices either and, if WMC's ads grossly distorted the criminal justice system, then so did it's.

Anonymous said...

That last post by Rick is unreadable.

Pete Gruett said...

Epic was concerned about the ethics of its vendors. Why should it "want to get at" entities it doesn't do business with?

John Foust said...

Anon: I think the Professor wanted to say that if Epic was concerned about unethical behavior in the advertisements and manipulations of the Gableman/Butler race in general, then Epic also should be trying not to do business with any companies that might've contributed to those groups of (WEAC/trial lawyers/casinos/unions) who also sponsored misleading advertisements. He thinks it's unfair that Epic singled-out WMC.

I think this is as close as he'll come to admitting that WMC spent millions on deeply misleading ads. The flaws in these ads might be obvious to smart folks like you, me and the fencepost, but the logical flaws and lies were not obvious to many people who vote.

You see, WMC was just strengthening the social fabric when they told us it was a Supreme Court justice's fault and flaw that in the course of his job as a public defender many years before, a criminal went to jail, served his time, and committed another crime after that. They weren't trying to mislead voters! They were just spending millions on "good-natured ribbing."

Rick Esenberg said...

John Foust, accuracy please. The ad that you refer to was awful but it was not run by WMC. I have made no secret of the fact that ads in judicial campaigns - by both sides - drive me to tears. But, so do the questions asked by people like Ted Kennedy and Herb Kohl at judicial confirmations hearings. Did WMC run ads that I think oversimplified things? It did. Every one did. Although, without going back, I don't think that it ran the worst.

John Foust said...

Thank you for the correction. I assume you mean the former ad, and not the "Loophole Louie" latter ad I mentioned. Time flies, and you mix up the things your kids did.

Perhaps WMC can turn its millions to decrying the misleading ads that everyone else did. That would improve the social fabric, no?

"Oversimplified"? Is that one of those "terms of art" that us regular folk simplify to other more direct terms? Think they weren't "oversimplifying" on purpose? Think they'll stop "oversimplifying" in the next Supreme race?

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