Failure to Disclose

While banks and insurance companies are heavily betting on Republicans this election year, we may never know what companies are behind third-party ads pushing for corporate-friendly policies and politicians. Since forty-one Republican senators voted in lock-step to block the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), the bill hasn't yet had an opportunity to receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The DISCLOSE Act, which the House passed in June, would prohibit corporations that are foreign-owned or receive federal dollars from engaging in electoral activity, and would mandate that third party political groups publicize their donors and include disclaimers on advertisements. So far, however, the obstructionists in the Senate have derailed this drive for transparency in politics by blocking a vote on DISCLOSE. Unless the Senate leadership is able to break through this obstructionism when Congress comes back from its August recess,third party groups will have free license to spend handsomely on elections without releasing a single source of their funding.

A recent Fortune article points out why the DISCLOSE Act is needed, as even Goldman Sachs, which says it will not directly contribute to political organizations, "can publicly say it won't fund political ads, and still go right ahead doing it privately." As Tory Newmyer maintains: "[T]rade associations and other non-profit groups can now spend freely on ads attacking or supporting specific candidates. And because those groups don't always have to identify their funders, they provide a safe vehicle for corporations looking to launder their involvement in dicey election contests."

Due to a state law, the business-backed independent expenditure political committee Minnesota Forward was forced to publicly list its donors. However, when advocates found out that companies such as Target and BestBuy were behind a group that supports a gubernatorial candidate with a horrendous record on gay-rights and consumer protection, they encountered severe pushback from customers and advocates.

But while Target and BestBuy got caught, other corporations and affiliated groups learned from their mistakes. Dirk Van Dongen, the head of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, believes that the boycotts of Target won't stop other businesses from becoming involved in electoral activity, "noting that businesses can give anonymously to trade association and other non-profit campaign efforts."

In fact, Target did not promise to stop making political contributions, but would simply send them through a "review board" in the future. David Schultz, a campaign finance specialist at Hamline University, predicts that corporations, "exclusively driven by the Citizens United case," will increase their electoral spending by as much as 50% this year.

Corporate review boards do little to mitigate the impact of the new rules allowing for anonymous political engagement on the part of corporations. As Senator Chuck Schumer rightly maintains:

Allowing corporate and special interests, now because they have so much money, to pour that money into our political system without even disclosure, without even knowing who they are or what they are saying or why they are saying it, they are taking politics away, government away from the average person because of the influence of such large amounts of dollars.

PFAW