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CEO emails 10 million customers to tell them to vote for Biden

Highlights from the final debate
Highlights from the final debate 14:57

Expensify CEO David Barrett emailed the company's 10 million customers on Thursday with an unusual pitch: Vote for Biden, he urged them, or risk damaging the nation's democracy. The email has been met with both support and condemnation, with critics calling it "political propaganda" and a misuse of customer emails. 

Barrett told CBS MoneyWatch that his company sent the email to its 10 million customers on Thursday because it's "trying to do what we can to support and defend democracy against voter suppression." Barrett founded Expensify in 2008 to make it easier to file expenses.

Barrett's message comes as companies increasingly are finding themselves in the crosshairs over political issues, whether intentional or not. Goodyear drew the ire of President Trump in August for what he claimed was the company's ban of hats bearing his campaign phrase "Make America Great Again," or MAGA. Goodyear said it banned all political messages, not just Mr. Trump's. 

At the same time, consumers are increasingly motivated to buy from companies that align with their personal beliefs. 

Expensify's email was an extension of the company's work on social issues such as Black Lives Matter and anti-hunger initiatives, Barrett told CBS. He added that he and his staff had discussed how to get involved in the November 3 election, and a majority of staff voted in favor of sending the email to their customers. 

"It wasn't done as a business calculation," Barrett said. "But in the end, I think it'll be good for business."

The email from Expensify drew criticism not only for its political message, but because the company relied on its corporate data, with some on social media calling it "spam" and misuse of their information. 

"The email from the CEO of @expensify to their customer database is completely innapropiate [sic] irrespective of your political views. Total spam. We use them. Alternatives?," wrote Carlos Domingo, the co-founder and CEO of digital securities company Securitize, on Twitter. 

Barrett said it was too early to say whether the company would lose customers because of the email. "That's the great thing about democracy: They can vote with their wallets," Barrett said. "We support whatever decision they make."

"Unprecedented attack"

At the same time, some companies have hit upon success for aligning themselves politically with certain views, such as the spice company Penzey's, whose CEO Bill Penzey has spoken out against Mr. Trump's ideology and earned a cult following as a result. The consulting firm Accenture recently found that almost two-thirds of Americans say their purchasing behaviors are swayed toward companies that support views or causes with which they agree.

Barrett was unsparing in his criticism and fears of a second term for Mr. Trump in the email to customers.

"We are facing an unprecedented attack on the foundations of democracy itself. If you are a U.S. citizen, anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy," Barrett said in the email. "I'm saying a vote for Trump, a vote for a third-party candidate, or simply not voting at all — they're all the same, and they all mean: "I care more about my favorite issue than democracy."

He added that his company relies on a "functioning economy and society; not many expense reports get filed during a civil war."

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