The recent SCOTUS decision in Knox v. SEIU (which I discussed here) says that when a union wants to charge non-members special fees for things like politicking, it has to get affirmative "opt-in" consent from the non-members. (In "agency shop" states like California, even those who don't join the union are forced to pay fees to the union for the privilege of being represented in collective bargaining).
And now, from the faculty lounge at Harvard Law School comes the predictable response: on NPR, professor Benjamin Sachs argues that "If we give union members the right to opt out of, to refuse to fund union political speech, we ought to give shareholders the right to opt out of funding corporate political speech."
First, the issue in Knox was not "union members" but non-members, who are forced to pay fees to a union to which they don't want to belong.
Secondly, there is a fundamental difference that, one would have thought even a Harvard professor could grasp. A shareholder can choose which companies to invest in. But that's not the case with workers in states that are either agency shop or closed shop. Every state worker in California is forced to either join a union, or pay annual fees to a union. There are 28,000 nonunion workers paying fees to SEIU. The Supreme Court did not disturb the union's right to an annual confiscation of "dues," but it simply said that if the union wants to raise additional funds for political advocacy, etc. it has to ask the non-members to opt-in.
Thirdly - and this I'm sure will be too arcane a question for the ivory tower - how on earth do you implement a shareholder "opt out?" Shareholders don't pay annual dues or special assessments. They own a percentage of a corporation's equity, the value of which fluctuates from day to day. Is there a mechanism whereby a shareholder can withhold "his" portion of corporate political spending?