Imagine getting a letter from the boss, telling you how to vote.
Until 2010, federal law barred companies from using corporate money to promote political candidates and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.
But the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting and sometimes explicitly recommending how they should vote this fall.
In these letters, the executives complain about the costs of overregulation, the health care overhaul and possible tax increases. Some letters warn that if President Barack Obama is re-elected, the company could be harmed, potentially jeopardizing jobs.
David Siegel, 77, chief executive of Westgate Resorts, a major time-share company, wrote to his 7,000 employees, saying that if Obama won, the prospect of higher taxes could hurt the company's future.
"The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration," Siegel wrote. "If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company."
In an interview, Siegel said he was not ordering his employees to vote his way.
"There's no way I can pressure anybody," he said. "I'm not in the voting booth with them."
Siegel added: "I really wanted them to know how I felt four more years under President Obama was going to affect them. It would be no different from telling your children: 'Eat your spinach. It's good for you.' "
Dave Robertson, president of Koch Industries, sent an information packet and letter this month to more than 30,000 employees of a subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, a paper and pulp company. The letter warned that government subsidies for "a few favored cronies" would "put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses."
The letter added, "Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills."
The Georgia-Pacific letter included a flier listing several candidates endorsed by the Koch brothers, the conservative billionaires, beginning with Mitt Romney, as well as opinion articles that the brothers had written.
Larry Wagoner, a lab technician for Georgia-Pacific in Camas, Wash., said the company's political packet had spurred widespread discussion. "I don't have a beef with it," he said. "But several people feel it's intrusive upon their personal choice."
Other companies whose top executives have sent out anti-Obama letters include Rite-Hite, a manufacturer of industrial equipment based in Milwaukee, and ASG Software Solutions, based in Naples, Fla.
Many corporate executives say they have stepped up their political activities to counter organized labor's efforts on behalf of Obama and other Democrats. Even before Citizens United, unions were allowed to promote candidates to their members.
Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged the effectiveness of labor's political efforts.
Romney has himself urged business owners to appeal to their employees. In a conference call in June organized by the National Federation of Independent Business, he said, "I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections."
Larry Gold, associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO, said some of the recent employer letters, by hinting at the possible loss of employees' jobs, appeared to cross the line into improper coercion. Federal law and the laws of several states bar anyone from coercing or intimidating voters into voting a certain way.
But Bradley Smith, a Republican former member of the Federal Election Commission and a professor at Capital University Law School, disagreed, saying letters like those sent by the companies were not firm threats to fire anyone if Obama won.
According to the Citizens United ruling, companies may recommend candidates to employees, said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA.
"If the employer wants to say, 'This candidate is good or bad for our business and therefore good or bad for you, the employee, that's permissible that's protected by the First Amendment," Volokh said. "But if the employer threatens to fire you based on how you vote, that's not protected."
But many liberal legal experts fear that employees could be discouraged from exercising their rights to free speech.
"The concern here is there is an unavoidable power disparity between management and employees," said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.
"Put yourself in the shoes of an employee at any of those companies. Are you going to be comfortable putting an Obama bumper sticker on your car and driving into the company parking lot? If you're in a small community with a big employer, will you feel uncomfortable about putting up a yard sign for a candidate your boss doesn't favor?"
Richard Lacks, chief executive of Lacks Enterprises, an auto parts company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., wrote to his 2,300 employees this month warning that an Obama victory would mean higher health care costs and higher taxes that would eat into their paychecks.
"It is important that in November you vote to improve your standard of living and that will be through smaller government and less government," he wrote.
Election law experts did not point to any corporate efforts this year to urge employees to back Obama, although corporations have at times politicked for Democratic candidates.
In 2010, Harrah's, the casino company, urged its employees to go to the polls to re-elect Nevada's senior senator, contending that "waking up to the defeat of Harry Reid Nov. 3 will be devastating."
In a statement, Koch Industries, which owns Georgia-Pacific, said its mailing contained pieces of information "we believe are important for our employees to know about." The company said the letter was in no way intimidation.
"We make it clear that any decision about which candidates to support belong solely to our employees."