This weekend I was honored to speak at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon along with my colleague Scott Nelson. My presentation is here, and it details how hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by SuperPACs and other dark money groups focusing on ads and other strategies to attack EPA regulations and/or promote expanded fossil fuel production. While some wealthy climate activists, like Tom Steyer, are trying to keep up with the Koch’s and other fossil fuel-backed spenders, it’s clear that the solution is not trying to match them in an arms race, but rather focus on building the grassroots. For example, the amazing activists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline have, despite no big money ad campaign, managed to force the President to frequently address what otherwise would be an obscure pipeline permitting process. This kind of inspiring feat is what Steyer should be building, rather than spending $100 million on pricey consultants, advertising agencies and TV stations. In the meantime, let’s support Public Citizen’s Democracy is for People campaign to get unregulated corporate money out of our political system.
Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum
Today we took part in an exciting bill launch on Capitol Hill. The bill, titled the Government by the People Act, would empower grassroots donors in elections, and provide matching public funds for small donations.
Check out our press release below for more details, then sign on to become a citizen co-sponsor of the Government by the People Act.
Sarbanes’ New Campaign Finance Measure Would Offset Flood of Money in Politics
H.R. 20 Would Help Bring a Government of, by and for the People
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen applauds today’s introduction of the “Government By the People Act” (H.R. 20), a comprehensive campaign reform measure designed to dramatically reduce the importance of large campaign contributions and vastly enhance the significance of small donations from everyday Americans.
The measure, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and dozens of co-sponsors, would help restore fairness and opportunity to our elections, Public Citizen said.
A new report out today from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) paints a fascinating picture of Corporate America’s involvement in our elections.
The report, titled “Tricks of the Trade: How companies anonymously influence climate policy through their business and trade associations,” provides compelling evidence that companies are increasingly using dark money nonprofits and trade associations to advocate for policies too controversial for the companies to support publicly, while also conveniently omitting their involvement with such groups.
The report analyzes a survey administered to more than 5,000 companies worldwide by the CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) . The annual survey seeks information on the companies’ positions on climate change, and in 2013 incorporated questions about companies’ involvement with politically active trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. Supreme Court could soon issue its decision in Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that challenges aggregate contribution limits to federal candidates, political parties, and political action committees. Several outcomes are possible, ranging from a complete elimination of said limits to a total preservation of those limits.
However, there is a third (perhaps more likely) middle-ground scenario in which the Supreme Court maintains aggregate limits on contributions to political parties and PACs, but eliminates them for contributions to candidates. In the aftermath such a ruling, a wealthy donor could still effectively contribute more than 24 times the legal limit to political parties, according to a new report by Public Citizen.
Now, imagine a world in which well-reasoned, appropriate limits established by the government were overlooked by individuals and the government itself, allowing people and businesses to exceed reasonable limits by 24 times the legal threshold.
- Currently, a driver can legally drive with a blood alcohol level under 0.08. Imagine if a police officer looked the other way if a driver registered a 1.94 reading, 24 times greater in this case would mean the person’s blood is nearly two percent alcohol, which would almost certainly be fatal.
- The speed limits on most major highways fluctuate between 60 and 80 miles per hour. What if drivers were able to drive 1,440 miles per hour, or 24 times the posted limit, without the government intervening? Even twice the legal speed limit would pose significant danger to the driver and other motorists.
The government has taken action against yet another company, subsidiary or executive represented on the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or its Institute for Legal Reform for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). On Thursday, Alcoa World Alumina, a company controlled by Alcoa Inc., pleaded guilty in federal court to bribing officials in Bahrain to win a supply deal in violation of the FCPA, which bars U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials to gain a business advantage. Alcoa will pay a $161 million civil penalty, the third largest FCPA-related disgorgement ever.
Public Citizen’s November 2013 report “License to Bribe” documented the efforts made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce since 2010 to weaken the FCPA. The Chamber has proposed five changes that are wolves in sheep’s clothing and would undermine the law. All of the proposed changes were rebuffed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which have joint jurisdiction to enforce the FCPA and released guidelines responsive to the U.S. Chamber’s requests to weaken the law.
One change the Chamber seeks is to limit a company’s liability for the acts of its subsidiaries. The DOJ and the SEC responded in a set of guidelines, saying that such a limitation would give companies an incentive to create subsidiaries for the purpose of engaging in bribery. Indeed, that is the mechanism through which many FCPA violations have taken place – including the Alcoa violations identified by the government.