Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 4, pp 715–728 | Cite as

Rethinking the Ethics of Corporate Political Activities in a Post-Citizens United Era: Political Equality, Corporate Citizenship, and Market Failures

  • Pierre-Yves Néron


The aim of this paper is to provide some insights for a normative theory of corporate political activities (CPAs). Such a theory aims to provide theoretical tools to investigate the legitimacy of corporate political involvement and allows us to determine which political activities and relations with government regulators are appropriate or inappropriate, permissible or impermissible, obligatory or forbidden for corporations. After having explored what I call the “normative presumption of legitimacy” of CPAs, this paper identifies three different plausible strategies to criticize and object to corporate political involvement: the “egalitarian” strategy, the “corporate citizenship” strategy, and the “market failures” strategy. It constitutes an attempt to develop the market failures approach to reflect on CPAs. My main claim is that within such an account, the idea that corporations have a license to operate considerably limits their right to engage in political activities.


Corporate political activities Equality Efficiency Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Market failures Social license to operate Joseph Heath  



This work was generously supported by the Centre Éthique Entreprise et Économie at the Lille Catholic University (France). Versions of this paper have been presented at the Society for Business Ethics’ Annual Meeting in San Antonio and Philadelphia, the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto and the EBEN’s annual congress in Lille. For helpful comments and questions, I thank the audience at these presentations. I owe special thanks to Joe Heath for his detailed comments and criticisms of various versions of this paper, while I was working as postdoctoral fellow under his supervision at the University of Toronto. For comments and discussions on this paper I also thank Sandrine Blanc, Ryoa Chung, Peter Dietsch, Xavier Landes, Chris Macdonald, Dominic Martin, Wayne Norman and Sareh Pouryousefi. I finally thank two anonymous Journal of Business Ethics referees for their excellent suggestions and remarks.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département d’éthique et Institut de philosophieUniversité Catholique de LilleLilleFrance

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