We’ve had a busy few weeks at Public Citizen.
This month we delivered over 2 million petition signatures for five different campaigns for public justice and a more democratic government.
One of the most rewarding parts about working here is seeing how our actions take shape both before and after the petitioning process.
The frustration with pay-to-play politics and greed is always there, but it’s worth it to see the shock on a staff member’s face as we deliver thousands of petition signatures to congressional offices, the crowds that gather to watch millions of voices being heard in front of the White House, or the actions taken across the country to make the system a little more just.
Public Citizen will continue to fight for a stronger democracy and public protections and we will continue to oppose threats to the public interest that reward greed and recklessness.
Here’s what we’ve been up to recently:
Over 200,000 Signatures Delivered to Congress on the #NoRiders #CleanBudget Petition
By Cameron Berube
A new budget bill has just been released and it’s clear that voters are getting the losing end of a last-minute bargain forged to keep the government from shutting down.
Perhaps with the hopes that Americans would be too busy preparing for the holidays to notice, Congress has packed the “omnibus” mega budget bill that appropriates spending for agencies with ideological riders that blatantly favor corporate interests. And while several bad campaign finance riders were kept out of the package thanks to the hard work of our champs on the Hill, unfortunately there were still several disastrous provisions included in the just-released omnibus package.
Arguably the worst of the bunch, the budget bill includes a rider that prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from writing a rule requiring corporations to disclose their political spending. Currently, corporations are free to funnel secret money into our political process, drowning out the voice of the people and endangering our democracy and there is no way for Americans to know who is paying for what (or who).
For years now, Americans of all stripes have been calling on the SEC to take action so that investors and customers can make informed decisions and hold corporations accountable for the causes they support and the money they spend on elections. In fact, 88 percent of Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — support such a rule.
So while the lights are set to stay on in the Capitol, the American people will remain in the dark.
The budget should not be used as a bargaining chip. Millions of hard working Americans count on employment with the federal government to feed their families during the holiday season. However, when Big Money interests pack the budget full of poison-pill riders like this, we can’t support its passage. And when Congress can’t pass a budget, we put those jobs and those families at risk.
Events following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission have not played out as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the decision’s author, expected.
Disastrously, Citizens United has unleashed unlimited corporate political spending into our elections.
Justice Kennedy, in writing the decision, presumed that this unlimited corporate spending would occur transparently, and that shareholders and the public would be able to hold corporations accountable for any attempt they might make to sway elections.
Here’s what Justice Kennedy wrote:
With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters
Recently, Justice Kennedy expressed frustration that disclosure “is not working the way that it should” despite the fact that, in his words, we “live in this cyber age” where a “report can be done in 24 hours.”
For the past several years, Public Citizen along with allies in the Corporate Reform Coalition have worked to fulfill Kennedy’s promise of disclosure by calling on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending. Additionally, we’ve supported shareholder efforts among the filed hundreds of resolutions filed in order to call on corporations like Chevron, Target, Google and Bank of America to disclose their political spending.
Now we’ve opened a new front in the battle for transparency. We’re calling on the Vanguard Group, the largest manager of retirement savings in the U.S., to combat the corrosion of our democracy.
It’s that time of year again — Washington has turned its focus to the threat of national default and how to fund the government. This year’s cocktail has had the additional flavors of a contested U.S. House Speaker’s race and a presidential race to spice things up, and has resulted in an actual budgetary framework for the first time in several years.
The problem now is that members of Congress are attempting to add deal sweeteners for corporate lobbyists into the final budgetary mixture. These so-called “policy riders” are legislative provisions addressing extraneous policy issues that have little or nothing to do with funding our government. They get slipped into must-pass funding bills because lawmakers hope the public won’t notice their bitter taste. These riders are generally ideological measures that the public opposes and the president would veto as standalone legislation.
Most of the attention has focused on one particularly heinous poison pill — the effort to defund Planned Parenthood — which would threaten healthcare for millions of women. Congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government to force us to swallow this one. But there are hundreds of other toxic ideological riders that have been added to the budget. These riders would block efforts to stop Wall Street abuses, ensure safe and healthy food and products, provide clean air and water, keep workplaces safe, prevent consumer rip-offs and corporate wrongdoing, and ensure continued access to vital healthcare services across the board.
One example is a rider that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Labor from finalizing or enforcing a rule that would ensure Americans get sound financial advice on their retirement savings. Another rider would block the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration from finalizing a rule to protect workers from toxic silica dust; this rule has been more than a decade in the making about would save 700 lives a year.
On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3-2 in favor of a final rule requiring public companies to disclose CEO pay as a multiple of the median-paid employee. The rule was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but languished at the commission for five years.
Commissioner Michael Piwowar voted against adoption of the final rule. He said “ideologues” and “bullies” pressed the SEC to carry out this mandate.
Public Citizen members and supporters appealed to the SEC to adopt this rule, which was mandated in 2010. (Yes, laws from Congress often require agencies to translate them for industry before they become enforced, but the time lag on this rule was ridiculous.) To achieve the success of the SEC following-through with a congressional mandate, Public Citizen worked in concert with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Institute for Policy Studies, As You Sow, the Teamsters and other members allied with Americans for Financial Reform. We count, apparently, among the “bullies” that Commissioner Piwowar complained about. Our chief weapon — the written and spoken word (with an occasional Facebook graphic).
The rule itself is intended to confront economic bullying, namely, the diversion and concentration of corporate income into the bank accounts of senior managers. The SEC’s final rule final rule harnesses shareholder pecuniary interests to help arrest the runaway CEO pay that’s part of yawning income inequality in America. The SEC’s important action drew front page media attention in the Washington Post, stories in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS, Fox, etc.
With the new SEC rule in place, investors can better determine if CEO at company X is overpaid compared to the CEO at peer company Y.