Did Goldman Sachs really ban their partners and other senior employees from donating to Donald Trump’s campaign as the headlines cried out this week? Yes. Was this wrong? No. The investment firm was just complying with new federal regulations issued for the financial services industry that forbids “restricted persons” from contributing to political campaigns where the candidate running also holds a state or local office, as Trump’s running mate Mike Pence does. So everyone: calm down. The firm did nothing wrong.
In the same article mentioned above, it was reported that Goldman’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, is “known to be a long time Clinton supporter.” In fact, back in June Hillary Clinton released a list of 56 CEOs who support her. The list includes leaders of General Motors, AirBnB and Netflix. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks recently slammed Trump in a speech as did the leader of MGM Resorts. Warren Buffett and Apple’s Tim Cook are also not fans of the Republican candidate. Don’t feel sorry for Trump (not that you are). He’s got plenty of industry leaders and billionaires that publicly support him too -- from PayPal founder Peter Thiel to investor Carl Icahn to New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.
What’s wrong is not who these people are supporting in this year’s election. It’s that we know who they’re supporting.
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Think about how wrong this is. How does an employee at Apple, General Motors or Netflix who supports Donald Trump feel right now? Maybe she’s extremely talented and hard working. Maybe she’s a real asset to the company. But her political views are in complete contradiction to the publicly stated views of the CEO she works for. Is she treated fairly at work? Do others raise an eyebrow at her when she walks by and say “Oh, there’s that Trump supporter, Gawd...what a idiot.” Does the fact that she supports a political candidate make it more difficult for her to get a promotion or better compensation?
I’m sure that these companies have lots of rules and policies against this kind of discrimination. But that’s just stuff on paper. Real life is always different.
Now look at yourself and your business. Are you on the Trump Train? The Clinton Camp? Whatever…good for you. But are you public with these beliefs? Do you have a political banner hanging in your storefront or a campaign sign planted on the front lawn Are you quoted in the paper? Are you active in your political party’s activities? Do you host political events? If you do any of this then clearly your employees know. So do your customers, your partners and your suppliers. And that’s not a good thing. People can be pretty crazy when it comes to politics.
How crazy? There’s a guy I know who told me that he and his wife stopped going to a popular diner a few months ago because they found that the owner is a big local contributor to Trump’s campaign. There are others who refuse to Chic-fil-A because of the CEO’s controversial stands. We have friends who love Barbara Streisand’s music but have told me they would never go to one of her concerts because she talks a lot of politics during the show.
I get it. If I pay $500 for a Barbara Streisand ticket (shoot me in the head if this ever happens) then I’m going because I want to hear her sing, not to hear an hour of her political views. When I buy a Starbucks coffee I don’t want to be reminded how much the firm’s CEO detests Hillary Clinton. When I go to a New York Jets game (shoot me in the head if this ever happens too) then I don’t want to know about how the Jets owner loves Trump. And I’m just a customer. Sure, there are other customers. But when you’re a small business you battle for your customers. Uou certainly don’t want to alienate potential customers because of your politics.
Consider how much worse even than losing a customer is losing good people? Imagine if those same CEOs publicly declared their opposition to LGBT rights, racial justice and equal pay for women? I’m sure their employees would feel pretty awkward coming to work at their companies. Many would be inclined to look for jobs elsewhere. So what’s the difference when those same CEOs publicly support or oppose a political candidate? There isn’t. They should stop. And so should you.
Do you support Clinton or Trump? Wait…I don’t want to know.