June 30, 2008

Judith Faulkner, corporate heroine

Epic has not run a press release for 18 years. In fact, the only advertising the company has sponsored was a billboard with the slogan, "Marketing Sucks ... Epic Systems."
The notoriously publicity-averse Judith R. Faulkner made very positive news last week with her principled stand against a business association, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and its opprobrious conduct during last winter's State election campaign.

Ms. Faulkner is a remarkable entrepreneur. She founded Epic Systems, a developer of healthcare information software, in 1979 with $6,000 and last year its sales topped $500 million. She remains in firm control of the privately held operation, which employs more than 3,000 and is looking for many more.

Judith Faulkner, much like a lot of us, didn't take kindly to the numerous and varied deceits that WMC produced attacking a sitting Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Louis Butler.

Last Wednesday, Epic published a statement referring to the campaign as a "travesty of ethics" and suggesting that WMC was largely responsible.

On Friday, Epic further clarified, “We believe that what we tolerate is what we stand for, and as corporate citizens, we stand for the preservation of the foundation of the judicial system.”

To that end Epic will "try to work only with vendors that do not support WMC with its current management."

Good for Judith Faulkner, and good for Epic Systems.
Epic management said that they could not support WMC's role in the Supreme Court race, which saw WMC pour approximately $1.8 million dollars into an ad campaign on behalf of Judge Michael Gableman.
Whether that money was spent on behalf of Gableman or purely on egregiously deceitful attacks against Justice Butler is a close question.

WMC barely mentioned Gableman, likely because there was little to say on behalf of him to begin with, and especially while Gableman's own campaign descended to previously untrolled depths of patently false and disgraceful innuendo, a campaign Gableman actually claimed to have been proud of.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political science hints darkly at illegal activity:
Epic's threat not to work with another company based on an election campaign appears to be the first of its kind nationwide, said Howard Schweber.

"We should be uncomfortable when private businesses have enough power to coerce businesses or other organizations to change their political views or affiliations or keep them secret," Schweber said.
Why? Epic Systems isn't colluding with its competitors to freeze out or favor a vendor. It's acting independently. Vendor selection and purchasing policy isn't limited to commercial considerations of price and delivery.

In fact Epic may only injure its own bottom line if avoiding WMC-affiliated suppliers results in higher priced or longer delivery items. A WMC spokesguy is defiant, or something, saying he won't be "intimidated." Bully for him.

Placing principle above lucre is nothing to be sneered at, especially in this case, where the principle at issue is central to the continuing success of the republic: the integrity of the courts.

In addition to the irony of the apparently unwitting reference to coercive corporate power — the abuse of which is Judith Faulkner's concern, not partisan politics — Prof. Schweber misses the point.

Epic's approach has nothing to do with partisan views or affiliations, it has to do with ethics, plain and simple. WMC waged a mendacious campaign of deliberate misinformation against a State Supreme Court Justice. Epic would prefer at the least not to mingle its lucre with that which is trading in sleaze.

Just as Epic can choose not to cut purchase orders to suppliers that engage in shady business practices so can it rebuff those connected to WMC's unseemly tactics. Selecting against WMC-affiliated suppliers is little different than purchasing only recycled toilet paper or only company bowling team shirts not manufactured in Bangladesh sweatshops.

It seems to me Epic's policy is laudable. Corporations may choose to express civic responsibility in a variety of ways, and this is one of them, based on a particularly admirable principle.

And WMC, having spent nearly $2 million on effectively attempted character assassination, certainly understands the coercive — and corrosive — power of lucre. If some WMC-affiliate suffers financially as a result of Epic's policy somehow, it will be a small price to pay for the sins committed earlier this year and beyond. Free market, the invisible hand and all that, coming back to slap you.

Prof. Schweber's discomfort would be far more accurately directed at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and not Epic Systems.

eta: Without providing a lick of evidence for either assertion and indeed in the face of evidence suggesting otherwise, Rick Esenberg describes Epic's statement as a "threat" and one of Epic's building contractors' withdrawal from WMC as a "submission" to that "threat."

But he does admit he only "imagines" it.


Anonymous said...

Cut it out, man. Yer stressing the social fabric.

Emily said...

I'm impressed with Epic's move here, but I sure do wish they'd stop treating their younger employees so poorly. They work 'em to the bone.

illusory tenant said...

Builds character.

Display Name said...

Look on the bright side. In the old days, apprenticeships were unpaid. 300 baud, both ways, half-duplex! You kids don't know how good you have it.

Rick Esenberg said...

Oh, please. Of course, its a threat. "We don't want to buy stuff from you if you support WMC." You just think it's a good one. What I "imagined" - actually hypothesized - was a similar threat directed at anyone who supports Planned Parenthood. Here's why I think it's rather obvious that JP Cullen knuckled under. They do lots of business with Epic and, contra Paul Soglin, their withdrawal from WMC was not accompanied by any criticism of the group. Instead, Cullen said he wanted to manage his business "to the benefit of our valued clients" and said, again contra Soglin, that "I continue to support the ideals of the organization to promote a healthy business climate for Wisconsin, and it is my intent to continue to advocate for sensible public policies that will benefit both the businesses and people in our great state."

illusory tenant said...

I just think if you're contemplating a First Amendment case here, you'd need to provide something other than speculation as a threshold matter.

Kicking a fully mobilized general contractor off an uncompleted construction project is certain to cause more harm to the client than to the contractor.

Rick Esenberg said...

Read it again. I am not suggesting there is a first amendment case here. There isn't. I said as much. What this may do is provide some support a constitutional challenge to legislation that would, for example, reguire disclosure of WMC donors.

Anonymous said...

"I continue to support the ideals of the organization"

This does not mean Cullen believes the contra Butler campaign lived up those ideals. You could, you know, ask him yourself if it does.

illusory tenant said...

Rick, beneath the headline, Epic takes on the right of association, a First Amendment right, you said:

But I can imagine circumstances under which Epic's threat - and J.P. Cullen's submission to that threat - may provide support for a constitutional challenge.

All I am inferring from that is a requirement of evidence for "threat" and "submission to that threat," which you haven't provided.

And, indeed, Soglin appears to be directly contradicting your own inferences.

Pete Gruett said...

You'd have to singularly naive to have to "imagine" a threat to supporters of Planned Parenthood. What do you think companies like Madison's Princeton Club mean when they say they prefer to work with "Christian" businesses?

The only thing that makes Epic's statement unique is its forthrightness. Instead of just privately freezing out other businesses or funneling money to an arms-length political operation like WMC, Epic has clearly stated their distaste for WMC's ethics and the reflection of those ethics on its members.

Lest anyone attempt to confuse the issue, the money to liberal causes came from the Faulkners, not Epic. Such is not the case with memberships in WMC.

illusory tenant said...

Welcome, fellow Bach-lover.

Display Name said...

Prof. Esenberg is shocked, shocked, shocked to hear that some businesses already practice this sort of politics- / religion-based threatening behavior. No one has ever mentioned this at WMC or Federalist meetings before.

Other Side said...

"I continue to support the ideals of the organization to promote a healthy business climate for Wisconsin, and it is my intent to continue to advocate for sensible public policies that will benefit both the businesses and people in our great state."

And if WMC left it at that, truly, it would be a great organization. It's the use of sleaze tactics to defeat those it feels are not sufficiently conservative that define the organization.

illusory tenant said...

Agree 100%.

capper said...

What I "imagined" - actually hypothesized - was a similar threat directed at anyone who supports Planned Parenthood.

Or American TV?

Anonymous said...

Well, you know, conservatives are famous for arguing that businesses shouldn't be free to choose with whom they do business, and that political morality can't be a matter of self-policing through the exercise of preferences that squeeze perceived unethical behaviour out of the marketplace, almost as if guided by some sort of invisible hand.

So at least the current dark mutterings about Epic aren't inane hypocrisy or anything.

Display Name said...

I know, Anon, I know. The pressure that Epic is exerting on these vendors is immense. It's a threat! It's like they're terrorists! Because of what Epic is doing now, criminals be convicted, serve their time, and will go free and crime again!

joykruse said...

Judith Faulker is an amazing woman supporting the arts... thank you Judy from the bottom of my heart!