Are Tech Leaders Pressuring Workers to Vote Clinton?

Hillary Clinton Smile Wave AP FBN

At least 330 tech companies have given their employees Election Day off to vote. Their leaders say it’s a nonpartisan effort, but from where I sit at the epicenter of this left coast movement, it appears to be more of a thinly veiled effort to get Hillary Clinton into the White House than a get out the vote campaign.

This is wrong on so many levels, I’m not sure where to begin. Let’s start with duplicity and peer pressure and work our way up to influence peddling and voter intimidation.

San Francisco-based venture capitalist Hunter Walk claims the campaign he initiated is impartial, but he’s actually an outspoken Clinton supporter. The past few months of his Twitter stream is mostly devoted to Clinton, with the common theme “With her since 2012, #WithHer on Nov 8” appearing time and again.

Walk was also among the 145 tech elites who signed an open letter strongly opposing Donald Trump, saying, in part, that he “campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people,” “traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes” and his divisiveness “would be a disaster for innovation.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence that many tech industry executives and entrepreneurs who came out publicly against Trump have also joined Walk’s “Take Off Election Day” movement. A long list of companies big and small, including TaskRabbit, Tinder, Twilio, Betaworks and August Capital, appear on both lists.

Some of the most active promoters of Walk’s #TakeOffElectionDay effort are unabashed Clinton supporters. Thrillist founder and venture capitalist Ben Lerer, for example, recently tweeted, “The ones who stand up and stop Trump will be remembered” and “Just be Tuesday already! I literally can’t wait to vote for HRC and end this nightmare.”

Make no mistake. The thousands of executives behind those 330 companies are highly-respected opinion leaders with outsized social media footprints. They don’t just influence tens of thousands of their own employees, but also countless stakeholders who follow them.

As I see it, the notion that there’s no connection between the two election day missions – to get their employees to vote and to elect Clinton – is ludicrous. It simply doesn’t pass the laugh test.

And let me tell you something, folks. When your CEO actively campaigns for a presidential candidate, despises the opposition, and gives you the day off to vote because, as it says on the Take Off Election Day homepage, “this election is more important than ever,” that’s code for #StopTrump. The peer pressure is enormous.

When I ran marketing for a publicly traded tech firm back in the day, our CEO sent a companywide email compelling employees to get out and vote in support of the cause. It makes no difference that the cause was Republican. As a corporate officer, I was appalled by the implicit pressure on employees to conform. I even felt it myself.

That may have happened twenty years and five election cycles ago, but it felt wrong then and it feels just as wrong now. Personally, I consider it to be highly unethical and tantamount to creating a hostile work environment.

If I were cynical, I’d say that blatant peddling of influence is right out of the Clinton playbook: the widely reported allegations that CEOs and foreign leaders didn’t pay upwards of $200K per speech or donate millions to the Clinton Foundation out of the goodness of their hearts, but for access to the State Department and a powerful family.

There’s a very good reason why campaigning in and around polling places is illegal: it’s voter intimidation. How is it any different when the CEO who gave you a job, signs your paycheck and controls your fate at work is an avid supporter of a candidate and gives you the day off to go out and vote? If that isn’t implicit voter intimidation, I don’t know what is.

Among the countless pro-Clinton and anti-Trump posts Walk has tweeted and retweeted to his 125K followers these past few weeks, perhaps this one provides some insight into his ethics when it comes to elections:

Don’t get me wrong. I doubt if the CEO of every company that took part in this movement is part of a left wing conspiracy to keep Trump out of the White House. But I think those who say it’s a nonpartisan effort while vocally supporting a specific candidate are abusing their power and unduly pressuring their employees. And that’s just plain wrong.