As usual, in an election year, we are faced with an onslaught of political ads on TV and Radio. These ads don’t necessarily “support” a candidate, they just go after one of the candidates in the race. Meaning the ad is something for the other candidate. However, the ads aren’t being run by a political party. They are being produced and paid for by Political Action Committees. The biggest problem with a PAC is that they don’t have to say from where or whom they get their money.
As we all know, this is called “dark money.” In fairness, both sides use PACs to help their candidates. However, there are far more “conservative” PACs than “liberal” ones. Of course, most leaders of corporations are Republican because they want the “free market” system. As a result, Democratic candidates are usually at a disadvantage in raising money because they have to fight their opponent and the PACs.
The Citizen United decision by the Supreme Court has made it extremely easy for corporations and/or other rich business people to literally “buy” an election. And, they can do it in total anonymity. The PACs don’t have to list their donors. My question to this is why? Why is it so important for people to be able to donate money without saying who they are giving to? Is it possible that they are hiding something?
Now we get to an interesting thing. The SEC has been looking into a new rule that would make it mandatory for all publicly traded corporations to release to their shareholders their political spending. The rule first came up in a petition in 2011. The SEC has held the rule open for public comment. As of this month more than 1 million comments — most of them in favor of the mandate have been received.
Thanks to that pressure, the Center for Political Accountability reports “almost 70 percent of companies in the top echelons of the S&P 500 are now disclosing political spending made directly to candidates, parties and committees,” and “almost one out of every two companies in the top echelons of the S&P 500 has opened up about payments made to trade associations.” The center calls that a dramatic increase from a decade ago when “few, if any, companies disclosed their political spending.”
However, the new rule would make such disclosure mandatory not voluntary. This brings us to another question. The Republicans have already passed laws that allow union members to “opt out” of having their dues used for political activity by the union. If unions cannot use money from members who “opt out”, why can’t shareholders have the same option of opting out? Why is it okay for corporations to hide their political activities from shareholders, and unions cannot? Would the answer be because unions generally support Democrats and corporations generally support Republicans?
Let’s take this another step further. Suppose you are a very good customer of a business. If this SEC Rule becomes law, you discover that the business you have supported with your spending supports political issues that are against your beliefs. Shouldn’t you have the right to take your business elsewhere to a business that more reflects your beliefs? If dark money is allowed to continue, how can we make such decisions?
There has been a huge backlash against Burger King recently. It has nothing to do with politics, but rather their intention to move their corporate headquarters to Canada in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. That type of business decision is made public by law. Shouldn’t the political choices of corporations also be made public?
I know that most people do not make their purchase decisions based on political beliefs. If that were the case, WalMart would probably be out of business. But, the fact that these corporations are allowed to hide their political activity flies in the face of open democratic governance. If the Supreme Court says that money donation is a form of free speech, there is no reason to hide who is donating it and to whom they are donating.
Of course, there are a lot of people opposed to this new rule. Mostly groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Those lobbying groups represent corporations that would have to disclose their political spending under the new rule — including the budget spent on those lobbying groups themselves. As a result of pressure from these groups, the SEC has taken the new rule off of their agenda. Meaning it will be a lot longer before any decision is made, if any.
The reason this rule is important is because it could be the first shot to end dark money. The right is full of conspiracy theories. The one conspiracy theory they seem to ignore is the fact that “dark money” allows billionaires to purchase candidates without being caught. What could be more un-American than holding shady elections where candidates are for sale?
This new rule should become law. Furthermore, I believe that this rule should apply to all companies whether or not they are publicly traded. Customers have a right to know who the company is donating money to as well. Whether you are a large corporation like Koch Industries or a small mom and pop shop on the corner. After all, history has shown that only those trying to overthrow a government need secrecy!