A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition released this morning grades each state's response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the flawed decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited, undisclosed spending by corporations and special interests to influence our elections. The decision forced 22 states to reexamine their laws on the books that limited such expenditures.
The report, "Sunlight State By State After Citizens United," examines how many states either repealed their corporate expenditure bans or declared them unenforceable in the wake of Citizens United. Montana is the notable exception, claiming that its law is still valid. That claim will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Other states have adopted more creative approaches to ensure that the public is informed about the outsized influence in our elections that corporations try to buy with their vast treasuries. For example, Alaska, California and North Carolina require the disclosure of the top contributors to political ads, and Iowa requires that shareholders be directly informed of corporate political spending.
The Corporate Reform Coalition, which is composed of more than 75 good-government groups seeking to combat undisclosed money in elections, evaluated each state's response to the Citizens United decision by scoring disclosure requirements related to political spending. While only a constitutional amendment to reverse the Court's decision can undo the damage of Citizens United, disclosure requirements are an important step toward a more transparent democracy.
AK, CA, CO, HI IA, IL, MA, NC, SD, VT, WA, WI and WV all received the top score. IN, SC, WY, NY and ND received the lowest scores.
You can read the report here.
As part of the Corporate Reform Coalition, People For the American Way has been pressing for solutions to the problem of major corporations using their vast treasuries to influence elections. Our message to corporations is clear: leave democracy to the people and stop spending money on politics.
Corporate money in politics affects Americans not just as citizens, but as investors. If you own stock or contribute to a 401(k), corporations could be using your money to fund candidates, causes or political ads that you may not approve of, all without your knowledge. Even students are at risk – the endowments of many colleges and universities invest those funds with corporations that make secret political contributions.
This week, as activists descended on the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, student groups took the opportunity to stake their claim in the issue and demand that companies refrain from using endowment funding in order to influence our elections.
The branch of Bank of America in Washington DC we visited wasn’t eager to hear from students concerned about where there tuition dollars were going. The bank locked its doors during the protest – barring activists and customers alike from the premises. But the message has been sent: All Americans, from students to seniors, have a right to a electoral process that is free from the corrosive influence of undisclosed, unaccountable corporate and special-interest political spending.
Thanks to Citizens United, corporations have been spending unprecedented sums for political purposes. Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn that flawed decision, good government advocates are pressing a variety of strategies to minimize the undue influence corporations currently hold over our electoral system.
Requiring disclosure of corporate political expenditures is one powerful way to return some of the balance of influence to the American people. Activists are pressing for the passage of the DISCLOSE Act and the Shareholder Protection Act, and also submitted a record-setting action to the Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a rule requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.
This week, the Corporate Reform Coalition is taking this call to the true owners of public corporations: the shareholders. This coalition of organizations, which includes People For the American Way, Public Citizen and others, is supporting first-time “political spending” resolutions and helping to organize rallies at the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, which are taking place this week, and also at Target Corporation, which will meet on June 14th.
The message is simple: Leave democracy to the people. Corporations should stop spending money on influencing our elections and focus on what they were created to do: make a profit for their shareholders. And if these corporations refuse to cease using their vast treasuries for political purposes, they at least should disclose their activities so that shareholders can make informed decisions.
These reforms speak to many Americans because so many people are shareholders. If you’ve ever bought a stock, had a 401(k) account or a pension, then you’re a shareholder – and it is your money might be spent on a candidate, cause or attack ad you don’t support, without your knowledge. We all have a right to know if our money is being spent to influence our democracy, and we should have the power to say no.
Until a constitutional amendment can overturn Citizens United, progressives around the country are working on various legislative workarounds to address the flood of corporate money being spent to influence our elections. While only a constitutional amendment can restore to the American people the authority to regulate such spending, there are several ways to compel companies to disclose their political spending to the public and bring much-needed accountability to corporations that use their vast treasuries to sway our elections.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the rulemaking authority to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. This is significant because so many Americans are shareholders in one form or another: if you own a 401(k) or similar retirement account, you’re a type of shareholder; and the companies you invest with could be spending your money to support candidates or fund attack ads – all without your knowledge.
The American people have told the SEC to do its job. Yesterday, we broke the record for total number of comments submitted to the SEC on a particular rule: 178,000 Americans have written to the SEC, telling them to protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. PFAW supporters contributed a sizeable chunk of about 24,000 signatures to the effort.
The Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of progressive organizations including PFAW, Common Cause, Public Citizens, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending and others has been pushing a consumer-driven campaign to ask corporations to refrain from engaging in political spending. We are also pursuing legislative solutions like the Shareholder Protection Act as well as other means to help shine light on the influence of corporate money in our democracy.
PFAW joined a group of bipartisan organizations and public figures at a rally outside the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington today to demand that the agency use its authority to require publicly-traded corporations to disclose their political spending. Currently, corporations can use their treasuries to spend unlimited amounts to influence our elections – but that money belongs to the corporation’s investors. If you’re one of the millions of Americans with a 401 (k) or similar retirement account, it could be your money being spent for political purposes without your knowledge or approval.
That’s why disclosure is so important. Democracy depends on transparency, and until we can pass a constitutional amendment to undo the harmful effects of Citizens United and related cases that have helped to bring on the current crisis in our elections, a SEC rule requiring corporate disclosure is a powerful start. At the rally, themed “Wake up SEC,” pro-democracy groups made the case that the SEC needs to do its job and protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. The American people are increasingly alarmed by the effects of money in politics, and we need a regulatory agency that is not asleep at the switch.
To make the point, over 75,000 people sent letters to the SEC in support of the proposed rule.