Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category

wallstThis month shareholders at Fluor Corporation and NiSource Inc. voted to approve resolutions that require the companies to disclose their political spending. Fluor is a global engineering and construction company and NiSource supplies natural gas and electricity to nearly 4 million customers in seven U.S. states. Support for corporate political spending transparency has been growing nationwide as more and more shareholders demand to know whether their companies are using their investments to engage in potentially risky political behavior or investing in issues that are not aligned with their corporate values.

In a great trend, some companies- more than half of the S&P 100– have moved to voluntarily increase transparency around their political spending, however many still prefer to hide their campaign and lobbying spending from public view. With the majority votes at Fluor and NiSource, shareholders are demanding transparency.

The recent majority votes at Flour and NiSource demonstrate the continued momentum for corporate transparency, but they are also significant because both companies are recipients of major government contracts. Fluor Corporation and its subsidiaries have been awarded over $470 million in federal contracts in fiscal year 2016 alone. NiSource was awarded almost one million dollars in government contracts in 2015 and 2016, and has been awarded almost $12 million since 2011.

A diverse coalition including investment firms, democracy groups, labor unions, and environmental groups have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would require all major government contractors to disclose their political spending. As of December 2015, over one million signatures supporting the executive order have been delivered to the White House.

The implications of such an order would be meaningful not just for shareholders in these particular companies but for all Americans. Requiring federal contractors to disclose how they spend money in politics would touch 70% of the Fortune 100 companies. This means that Americans would be able to see if some of the country’s largest companies (and recipients of taxpayer dollars) are wielding undue influence over our elections and policy decisions by Members of Congress intended to influence the contracting process.

In his last State of the Union address President Obama acknowledged the problem that so many Americans have already identified by saying, “we have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

President Obama has the opportunity to put some muscle behind that promise by issuing an executive order and have a serious impact on money in politics in this country before leaving office. Almost two-thirds of Americans think that corporations have outsized influence in our elections. We recognize that our current system of democracy does not reflect how diverse our nation really is. In the face of inaction in Congress, Americans are relying on President Obama to take a stand for every non-billionaire who wants to run for office, for every small business that wants big business to play fairly, and for every parent who wants their child to grow up with clean water to drink and safe air to breathe. Without reducing the corrupting influence of money in our politics, these voices of everyday Americans will continue to be drowned out by big dollar corporate spenders, including government contractors that are paid by our tax dollars.

Shareholders have taken a stand this month by exerting their right to transparency as an elixir to the problem of money in politics. Investors aren’t the only ones who deserve to know how their money is being spent. Taxpayers should also know what issues and candidates are supported by contractors paid with federal dollars. The President should listen to the growing chorus of Americans calling on him to help restore the balance to our democracy by issuing the executive order today.

Rachel Curley is the democracy associate in Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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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.

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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?

Nobody knows.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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