Today the business leaders of the Committee for Economic Development and the bipartisan Americans for Campaign Reform released a new poll showing that almost 2/3 of likely Republican Primary voters in the critical swing state of NH strongly disagree with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that political spending by corporations and unions is a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment.
As we all know, the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited money for election purposes and advertising without disclosing the source of their funding.
In a moment when the national spotlight has fallen on Wall Street, the timing of this poll crystalizes the fact that the American outrage with the problem of concentrated corporate money is in no way a partisan anger.
One group that is currently focused on dealing with this issue is the Corporate Reform Coalition, organized by Public Citizen. The coalition is pushing for a set of legislative and corporate governance solutions to expose corporate influence in our elections and push for accountability.
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Since Citizens United, any CEO at a major company has free reign to pick up the corporate checkbook and spend, spend, spend to elect the candidate of their choosing. One appalling part of this newly enabled practice is that corporation shareholders aren’t offered any input in – or even informed of – the political causes that their own money goes to influence. And the bulk of Americans are shareholders.
Everyone who has a pension or investments in the stock market may be having their investments used to political ends—and they are powerless to have a voice in the process.
A key focus of the Corporate Reform Coalition is to give Americans that voice and the information they need to exercise it. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) currently has the authority to create rules requiring more disclosure from companies engaged in political spending. In August, a group of 10 corporate and securities law experts petitioned the SEC to develop rules to require public companies to disclose all of their corporate political activities to shareholders. The Corporate Reform Coalition is planning to submit numerous comments to the SEC on the petition to hold bolster its case, and to ask the public to comment as well.
Members of the coalition are also backing legislation on Capitol Hill and at the state level that would require companies to report their political expenditures to shareholders and in the case of the federal Shareholder Protection Act, offer a critical voice to the Americans who actually own the wealth of corporations – the shareholders– in whether the company spends at all.
This type of reform, whether legislative or done at the SEC, is critical in the post-Citizen United era. In an environment where corporate lobbyists are more empowered and emboldened than ever and walk the halls of Congress carrying large clubs, we need viable solutions. Members of Congress and their staffs are fully aware of the massive campaign war chests that corporate lobbyists can use to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Corporate lobbyists have long enjoyed special access on Capitol Hill, but today they can play the role of king-makers in Congress.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that about 50% of American households own stock. Responsible corporate governance that requires the involvement of informed shareholders is not a partisan issue. It’s about ordinary Americans having a right to know how corporations are spending their money in elections, and that’s a critical issue for all shareholders and voters.