Citizen Leader Spotlight: Elizabeth Doty
A long-time business leader and ethical leadership practices advocate, Elizabeth Doty worked with her father—conservative business leader Jack Doty—to co-found the first business-focused American Promise Association and rally support for the 28th Amendment among the business community.
In 2012, San Francisco-based management consultant Elizabeth Doty got an amazing opportunity: She was asked to join the Lab at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University as a Network Fellow, where academic and professor Lawrence Lessig was leading a group researching “institutional corruption.” The group focused on situations in which institutions systematically deviate from their purpose and erode public trust, even if nothing illegal or unethical occurs.
Elizabeth read Lessig’s book Republic Lost, which demonstrates in detail how the explosion of big money in politics has corrupted the U.S. Congress, stymying action on both sides of the aisle. She was inspired, and she shared the book with her father, conservative business leader Jack Doty.
“Though we come from different sides of the aisle, we both felt very strongly that this was wrong,” Elizabeth says. Jack challenged his daughter, who had long had a passion for studying and writing about business and society, to work with him to do something about it—but they weren’t sure where to start. Fortunately, Elizabeth had a lead. “I had met [American Promise President] Jeff Clements during his book launch in 2014 and was encouraged to learn that he was leading a cross-partisan effort through American Promise,” Elizabeth says. “So, Jack and I reached out in early 2017 and have been amazed at the level of professionalism, collaboration and support we have received ever since. It was a no-brainer to become a member.”
Engaging Business Leaders
In one of their early conversations, Jeff mentioned to Elizabeth and Jack that he believed progress on the 28th Amendment was most likely with three groups involved: citizens, faith groups and business leaders. “This inspired me to consider, how might we engage business leaders in this issue?” Elizabeth says. “Recently, more business professionals are realizing they need to get engaged. Perhaps they had been focusing on their businesses. Perhaps they had assumed society and the infrastructure they depend on would continue ‘as usual.’ But over the past few years, they have become alarmed by disturbing statistics. For example, many were mobilized by the recent paper by Professors Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl, ‘Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America.'”
Elizabeth says she’s talked with many business leaders who are paying more attention to the fundamentals of democracy and the health of the system in which their businesses operate. “Yet this is tricky for business people,” she says. “They are often hesitant to get involved in political issues, because they don’t have the time, it may cost them customers, or they don’t feel it is appropriate. Unfortunately, this means we have a situation where many, many business people feel comfortable lobbying and advocating for narrow, particular concerns that impact their business, but hesitate to advocate for an overarching framework that supports both business and democracy.”
Elizabeth and Jack wanted to help these business leaders acquire the tools, information and confidence they need to get involved. After more conversations with Jeff, Elizabeth and Jack decided to work together to launch the first American Promise business-focused association, Business Leaders for American Promise – Bay Area. The group recruited a dedicated Executive Committee, including Robert Galemmo, Terry Mandel and Jane Greenthal—all of whom attended the American Promise National Citizen Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., last June. They have also created an “extended action network” of roughly 20 professionals in the Bay Area ready to help with events and assist with outreach.
The Business Leaders for American Promise Executive Committee at the National Citizenship Leadership Conference
The group’s first big goal was to provide a simple, focused and clear way for business leaders to get involved in this important issue, along with the education and tools they need to feel comfortable making a public statement of support. They assembled a team of experienced business leaders and professionals from San Francisco and beyond to collaborate—through a series of video calls, meetings and emails—on a Statement of Principle for business leaders to sign, expressing their support for the movement toward a 28th Amendment to end unlimited political spending and restore integrity in government.
Statement of Principle
Elizabeth and Jack believe business leaders are an essential part of this movement, even if they are hesitant at first. “As outlined in our Statement of Principle, I see three main reasons business leaders are a natural fit,” Elizabeth says. “First, business leaders are citizens, as well as professionals, and they believe in representative democracy and a government accountable to those it represents. Unlimited political spending by corporations, unions or individuals causes elected officials to be more responsive to special interests than to their own constituencies. Second, most business leaders believe in creating value via the marketplace, not through political influence. Unfortunately, a pay-to-play political system pushes them into short-termism and an ‘arms race’ of political spending just to maintain their positions. Absent a set of shared ground rules or a common framework, businesses can feel pressured to up the ante because their competitors are doing so, or out of a sense of fiduciary duty to shareholders. This undermines the real drivers of American innovation, competitiveness and long-term prosperity. And third, most business leaders believe in a political system based on checks and balances and an open exchange of ideas. Unlimited political spending leads to concentrations of power, attacking the very foundations of our democracy, stifling productive political debate, inhibiting qualified candidates for political office, and impeding pragmatic, lasting solutions on any issue. This is why it is so important for business leaders to add their voices to those of millions of other Americans calling for a 28th Amendment to limit political spending. They are the only ones who can credibly clarify that unlimited political spending is not good for business.”
The next steps for Elizabeth, Jack and the Business Leaders for American Promise – Bay Area group are to begin outreach to business groups and individuals to offer presentations and information about this issue and the Statement of Principle. The group’s goal is to get 200 Principle of Statement signers this year. American Promise plans to use the Bay Area group as a model to replicate in other cities, enlisting a powerful group of advocates among business leaders across the nation.
Elizabeth says she encourages other American Promise citizen leaders to not shy away from engaging the business community. “Business leaders are citizens, as well as professionals, and many care very deeply about the country and representative democracy,” she says. “The challenge is that they tend to be under immense time pressure and must balance many different responsibilities. They tend to value critical thinking and analysis, even on issues where they have strong convictions. The best approach I have found so far is to simply have a dialogue that helps them clarify their position on the question of unlimited political spending. Sharing compelling data in a succinct, logical way can be very helpful—especially for highlighting the negative impact on long-term economic health and democracy.”