The Citizens United decision gave corporations unprecedented power to influence our elections. Sure corporations have been able to bully politicians for ages through lobbying and direct campaign giving, but never before has it been so easy for a corporation to impact who gets elected. Now, corporations can pump millions of dollars into either SuperPACs, non-profits, or trade associations that play in politics, and if they play their cards right it can be done entirely in secret.
Fortunately, many corporations are coming to realize that this type of spending might have repercussions and are changing their policies. So far, Twenty-four companies in the S&P100 do not make independent political donations, and fifty-seven companies either have board oversight or disclosure of political spending. These are steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
On Jan. 9 the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS) sent out a letter to the 20 least transparent companies in the S&P500 asking them to disclose their contributions to SuperPACs, 527s, etc. in a timely fashion. They were met with complete silence.
Breaking their silence by ending secret corporate spending in politics is exactly what the Corporate Reform Coalition is all about. The coalition is made up of institutional investors, public officials, academics and good governance groups working to reign in corporate spending. The coalition works to protect shareholders by promoting legislation, regulatory action and company policy changes around political spending. After all, in a publicly traded company the money belongs to shareholders, and so why shouldn’t they know how it’s being spent? What if you personally donated $20 to a campaign only to find that your 401k is linked to a company that donated $200,000 to the other guy? That’s not what your money was there to do, it’s not what you want your money to do, but hey, Corporation X didn’t ask you.
Corporate reform is a key step on the path to dealing with the impacts of Citizens United, save for one catch for people like me. Like many young people, I’m not a shareholder yet. I don’t have investments. I’m not enrolled in a 401k.
I can’t call on a company to do something if I don’t own a part of it, right? Wrong.
Take a closer look at the CAPS list. Chances are there are companies on there that you spend money at every month, maybe even every day. Though I may not yet have the power to vote on a shareholder proxy, I can certainly take my business elsewhere.
After looking at the list, I thought twice about buying a Kindle from Amazon, and in the end, I didn’t. Bank of America may be on the corner by my office and my apartment, but I’ll forgo the convenience to bank somewhere with a policy against political spending. When you walk into Wal-mart to buy batteries, and hundred other things you never knew you needed, do you intend your money to end up in SuperPAC? And I for one pay Sprint for my cell phone, not so they can run attack ads against the Senator I elected.
For a longer list of companies, good and bad, check out the CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability. Know where your money is going. When corporations can spend unlimited sums of money out of their treasuries to influence elections, we can’t just be content to vote on the first Tuesday in November — we have to vote every single day with our wallets.
Even if you’re not a shareholder, corporate disclosure of political spending will benefit all of us by revealing who is spending to influence elections. Take action now and tell the SEC to require publicly traded companies to disclose political spending.