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.
By Cameron Berube
In the wake of Citizens United, political spending in the 2016 elections already have reached dizzying heights. And since most companies refuse to disclose their political spending, it’s hard to know who’s backing who.
According to a new report from the Center for Political Activity (which benchmarks the political disclosure and accountability policies and practices of mutual funds), major mutual funds like Vanguard, which manages more retirement funds than any other firm in America, are doing next to nothing to encourage companies they hold large shares of to disclose how they use our money to influence policy.
So what are public companies doing with your money? Deregulating Wall Street? Gutting Medicare?
Americans are fed up with being drowned out by corporate interests. According to a 2015 poll, 88 percent of both Democratic and Republican primary voters agree that “the Securities and Exchange Commission should require corporations to disclose their political spending.”
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White will face questions from the House financial services committee on Wednesday, November 18, 2015. An Obama appointee, she’s nevertheless drawn sharp criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans. Public Citizen also challenges her stewardship. Here are questions we hope committee members will ask. We also take the liberty of proposing an ideal answer, and then the answer that we expect.
Banker pay: Dangerous pay structures helped cause the Wall Street bubble that burst in 2008. Congress approved a law requiring you to reform those structures and set a deadline: May 2011. When will you propose a good rule?
Ideal answer: There’s no excuse for taking more than five years on this. We’ve completed more complicated rules (including multi-agency rules) in less time. I’ve directed my staff to bring a proposal before commission vote by December.
Expected answer: This is a multi-agency rule that requires a great deal of cooperation. I assure you, we are working diligently. But I can’t give you any date because these are all difficult issues.
Political spending: More than 1.2 million investors have petitioned the SEC to draft rules requiring firms to disclose all their political spending. What is the timeline for moving forward on the rulemaking?
Ideal answer: While this is a political hot potato, shareholders deserve to know where corporations spend their money, especially if it involves public policy which could have a reputational impact on their invested monies.
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.
In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United ruling, Corporate America’s attempts to exert undue influence and block reform efforts in the U.S. Congress are nothing new.
A new report offers fresh evidence that Big Business has its sights set on our justice system too. State Supreme Court elections are the prime targets for corporate interests’ effort to control state benches. The motive: stack the courts with “business-friendly” judges. The implications are hard to overstate and deeply scary.
The report, Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, was produced by three nonpartisan organizations: Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.