Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category

While many Americans are signing up for a gym membership or vowing to read for fun, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is at it again with a slew of resolutions for the new year that, while they may line the pockets of Big Business and the very rich, promise nothing but trouble for the rest of us and the planet we call home. Without further ado, our list of the Chamber’s new year’s resolutions for 2017:

1. Shed those last few pounds regulations

 Now that several Chamber alums are occupying key spots on the transition team, the Chamber has set its sights on kicking off the new year with a rollback of federal regulations. The Chamber will continue to flex its dark money-fueled muscle in the hard-fought battle to pass the Midnight Rules Relief Act (MRAA). The MRAA would allow Congress to revoke a plethora of public protections under the Congressional Review Act with just one vote. This would have severe consequences for our health, safety and economic security and the Chamber’s support of the MRAA demonstrates once again that it sides with big corporations’ bottom lines over people’s well being. Also making the top of the Chamber’s resolution list is the passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) which would add dozens of new requirements to the regulatory process and would allow non-expert judges to second-guess the decisions made by an agency’s technical experts, thereby giving industry additional opportunities to attack public protections. New year, same deceptively named legislation!

2. Get Outdoors While You Still Can

While we don’t know if 2017 will finally be the year the Chamber makes up its mind on the science of climate change, we do know that its list of resolutions includes killing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Chamber is also advocating to undo the Clean Water Rule, designed to protect streams and wetlands, and by extension, our drinking water. And if that wasn’t enough, the Chamber is also fighting to reverse President Obama’s decision to close much of the Atlantic and Arctic basins to offshore drilling. If the Chamber gets its wish, the great outdoors may not be so great anymore.

3. Spend Less Money…On Workers

The Chamber has yet again resolved to stand up for the interests of very wealthy individuals at the expense of hardworking Americans. The Chamber will continue to oppose an increase in the minimum wage and implementation of the overtime rule that would make millions of middle income Americans eligible for overtime pay. The Chamber also intends to stiff hardworking Americans by asking for a repeal of several other Obama administration Executive Orders, including (but certainly not limited to!) the Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors EO, which provide workers at companies doing business with the federal government the opportunity to earn up to 7 days of paid sick leave per year. New year, but no new money in your paycheck!

4. Get Organized Unorganized

Just like some of us resolve every year to spend less money eating out or to stop smoking, the Chamber resolves every year to weaken unions and the protections they offer workers. In 2017, the Chamber has resolved to continue pushing laws weakening unions, seeking to build on “victories” in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. New year, same war against unions!

5. Party Like it’s 2007

Ain’t no party like a financial crisis party! In keeping with its role as a lobbyist for Wall Street, the Chamber will continue its fight to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act,  passed in the wake of the financial crisis as a way to prevent future financial crises. Dodd-Frank instituted a host of consumer protections as well as limits on reckless risk taking by banks. One important part of Dodd-Frank that the Chamber adamantly opposes is the Volcker Rule which prohibits big banks from using depositors’ funds for proprietary bets. The Chamber will also continue to oppose the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s efforts to combat unfair forced arbitration clauses and class action bans.  These “rip-off” clauses prevent consumers from having their day in court and offer big corporations another way to avoid accountability for corporate wrongdoing as the recent Wells Fargo scandal has shown. Another safeguard that the Chamber seeks to eliminate in 2017 is the fiduciary rule, which protects retirement savers from greedy financial advisors. New year, same defense of Wall Street greed!

So while many of us are wondering if we can really make it to the weekend without a drink or just how far into February our other resolutions will last, we should be more concerned that the Chamber is working to strip us of public protections, all while destroying the only planet we’ve got. Perhaps we should add a resolution to our list: oppose the U.S. Chamber’s harmful agenda.

If you’d like to learn more about the Chamber, you can always visit us on www.chamberofcommercewatch.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch project began a series exposing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of the central actors pushing the modern day Republican Party’s extremist agenda. This week, we dive into the Chamber’s dark money spending during the 2016 election cycle. As discussed in last week’s blog, under Tom Donohue’s leadership, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone from a rather staid business advocacy organization with ties to both political parties to one that has become rabidly partisan.

In the 2016 election cycle, however, the Chamber took partisanship to even greater heights. For the first time ever, 100% of the Chamber’s elections spending benefited Republicans. What’s more, the Chamber formed an explicit alliance with leading Republicans (enter Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina) whose goal was to “Save the Senate” for the GOP and prevent a Democratic takeover of the closely-divided body.  The Chamber was so determined to preserve a Republican majority in the Senate that it even spent big against Democrat Evan Bayh, a man it used to employ, and top Chamber officials often disparaged and mocked Bayh and other Democratic candidates on social media.

The Chamber, like other groups organized under section 501(c) of the tax code, is not legally required to disclose the sources of the money it independently spends on elections. It and other dark money groups can serve as conduits for anonymous donations from corporations and other wealthy special interests to flood elections, making it particularly dangerous to democracy. In a recently released report, “The Republican Party and the Chamber of Secrets,” Chamber Watch analyzed campaign spending data from the Center for Responsive Politics to get a fuller picture of the Chamber’s election spending.

The Chamber was the second largest non-disclosing outside spender in the 2016 cycle, after the National Rifle Association, and was the largest non-disclosing outside spender on congressional races. It spent nearly $30 million, all to benefit Republican candidates. [Table 1]

TABLE 1: SPENDING BY TOP 10 NON-DISCLOSING OUTSIDE GROUPS IN 2016 FEDERAL ELECTIONS
RANK GROUP TOTAL VIEW*
1 NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION $33,585,089 C
2 U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE $29,771,619 C
3 45 COMMITTEE $21,339,017 C
4 AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY $14,022,484 C
5 AMERICAN FUTURE FUND $12, 735,724 C
6 MAJORITY FORWARD $10,127,545 L
7 LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS $7, 292,098 L
8 AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK $5,559,198 C
9 ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE ACTION FUND $4,341,655 L
10 CLUB FOR GROWTH $4, 061, 723 C

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

*View: C = Conservative, L = Liberal, as determined by the Center for Responsive Politics

The Chamber spent most heavily on races for the U.S. Senate, spending a total of $25.8 million in 10 Senate races. Nine Senate races saw at least $25 million in outside spending – political expenditures from outside groups that are independent of a candidates’ committee. The Chamber reported expenditures in eight of these nine races and in eight of the 10 congressional races that drew the most outside spending in 2016. [Table 2]

TABLE 2: TOP 10 OUTSIDE SPENDING CONGRESSIONAL RACES IN 2016 ELECTION

RACE (DISTRICT FOR HOUSE CONTESTS)

CANDIDATES

U.S. CHAMBER SPENDING

TOTAL

OUTSIDE SPENDING

1 PA. SENATE KATIE MCGINTY (D) V. PAT TOOMEY (R) $6,106,150 $117,863,823
2 N.H. SENATE MAGGIE HASSAN (D) V. KELLY AYOTTE (R) $3,010,600 $90,754,788
3 NEV. SENATE CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D) V. JOE HECK (R) $4,215,961 $90,654, 145
4 N.C. SENATE DEBORAH ROSS (D) V. RICHARD BURR (R) $0 $59,088,388
5 OHIO SENATE TED STRICKLAND (D) V. ROB PORTMAN (R) $4,606,324 $51,567,703
6 FLA. SENATE PATRICK MURPHY (D) V. MARCO RUBIO (R) $1,500,150 $49,646,281
7 IND. SENATE EVAN BAYH (D) V. TODD YOUNG (R) $2,749,450 $45,681, 549
8 MO. SENATE JASON KANDER (D) V. ROY BLUNT (R) $1,000,150 $44,742,539
9 WIS. SENATE RUSS FEINGOLD (D) V. RON JOHNSON (R) $1,350,450 $26,448,808
10 NEV. HOUSE 3 DANNY TARKANIAN (D) V. JACKY ROSEN (R) $0 $16,886,961

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org

Both the Pennsylvania race, and the New Hampshire Senate contest broke spending records, with campaigns and outside groups spending $164 million and $121 million, respectively. In the Pennsylvania race between Pat Toomey (R) and Katie McGinty (D), the Chamber was the largest non-disclosing outside spender out of 27 groups, spending more than $6.1 million. In the New Hampshire race between Maggie Hassan (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) the Chamber was also the largest non-disclosing spender out of 14 groups, spending more than $3 million, while the next largest non-discloser spent just over $700,000. The Nevada Senate race saw the third highest level of outside spending, with the Chamber spending more than $4.2 million, more than any of the other 26 dark money spenders. Out of the top ten races with the most outside spending, the Chamber was the highest spender among non-disclosing groups in five races. [Table 3]

TABLE 3: CHAMBER SPENDING IN 2016 CONGRESSIONAL CONTESTS

RACE (DISTRICT FOR HOUSE CONTESTS)

CANDIDATES

U.S. CHAMBER SPENDING

U.S. CHAMBER RANKING AMONG NONDISCLOSING GROUPS

OUTCOME FOR CHAMBER-BACKED CANDIDATE

1 PA. SENATE KATIE MCGINTY (D) V. PAT TOOMEY (R) $6,106,150 1 OF 27 W
2 OHIO SENATE TED STRICKLAND (D) V. ROB PORTMAN (R) $4,606,324 1 OF 13 W
3 NEV. SENATE CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D) V. JOE HECK (R) $4,215,961 1 OF 27 L
4 N.H. SENATE MAGGIE HASSAN (D) V. KELLY AYOTTE (R) $3,010,600 1 OF 14 L
5 IND. SENATE EVAN BAYH (D) V. TODD YOUNG (R) $2,749,450 1 OF 8 W
6 ALA HOUSE 2* ROBY MARTHA (R) V. BECKY GERRITSON (R) $1,750,150 1 OF 2 W
7 FLA SENATE PATRICK MURPHY (D) V. MARCO RUBIO (R) $1,500,150 4 OF 18 W
8 WIS. SENATE RUSS FEINGOLD (D) V. RON JOHNSON (R) $1,350,450 2 OF 15 W
9 ARIZ. SENATE ANN KIRKPATRICK (D) V. JOHN MCCAIN (R) $1,250,150 1 OF 6 W
10 MO. SENATE JASON KANDER (D) V. ROY BLUNT (R) $1,000,150 4 OF 15 W
11 GA. HOUSE 3* MIKE CRANE (R) V. DREW FERGUSON (R) $650,150 1 OF 1 W
12 ILL. SENATE TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D) V. MARK KIRK (R) $550,150 2 OF 4 L
13 KAN. HOUSE 01* TIM HUELSKAMP (R) V. ROGER MARSHALL (R) $401,907 1 OF 2 W
14 N.Y. HOUSE 11 RICHARD REICHARD (D) V. DAN DONOVAN (R) $129,427 1 OF 1 W
15 KY. HOUSE 01* JAMES COMER (R)  V. MICHAEL PAPE (R) V. JASON BATTS (R) $100,150 1 OF 2 W
16 ILL. HOUSE 18* DARIN LAHOOD (R) V. MIKE FLYNN (R) $100,150 1 OF 2 W
TOTAL $29,471,469

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) *Primary Election

Of the ten marquee Senate races in 2016, the Chamber spent in 9 of them.  The Republican candidates it supported won 7 of those 9, guaranteeing that the Senate would in fact be “saved” for the GOP. While it’s of course impossible to say that the Chamber’s dark money deluge in these races accounted for the slew of GOP victories, it certainly may have helped tip the balance in the closer races.

The Chamber’s deluge of dark money in congressional races should alarm all those concerned about the health of our democracy. When the nation’s leading business group can form an explicit alliance with one of our two major parties and solicit unlimited donations from anonymous donors, individual voters and small businesses should be worried that their voices will be shut out.

The Chamber’s 2016 election spending makes it abundantly clear that rather than being a voice for American business, the Chamber has become a very loud, very powerful voice for the Republican Party.

Despite an unusual presidential race, the 2016 election proved to continue the trend since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision of dramatically increased campaign spending. Particularly, spending from outside organizations like super PACs and “dark money” nonprofit organizations like 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and trade associations hit an all- time high. Citizens United and subsequent decisions ended the long-standing $5,000 limit on donations to PACs that make independent expenditures, thus earning them the new name of “super PACs.” These court decisions also allow electioneering nonprofit organizations to receive unlimited donations, and since nonprofits need not disclose their donors, they provide new avenues for corporations to funnel secret money into our elections and skirt the responsibility to their investors and the public for how they choose to spend in politics.

Even though president-elect Trump disdained normal fundraising strategies and received unprecedented free media coverage, it would be incorrect to say that corporate influence and outside spending did not have a big presence in the 2016 cycle. Each of the major presidential candidates established their own super PACs so that once donors maxed out to the candidate campaigns, they could continue making unlimited donations in support of the campaigns to their super PACs. Spending by these outside groups reached record levels and heavily contributed to the most expensive election in American history. What is even more worrisome is the fact that almost half of this unprecedented spending by super PACs came from just 50 families – the very wealthiest of America’s elite class.

Key points about outside spending in 2016

This was the most expensive election in history.  Early estimates identify that a whopping $6.9 billion was spent in the 2016 federal election cycle, making it the most expensive in history. Despite Donald Trump’s erratic fundraising strategy, big donors didn’t shy away from this election.

Outside spending hit a new record. Super PACs and 501(c) organizations not formally affiliated with any candidates hit new records of spending with a total of $1.4 billion in the 2016 cycle– up from $1 billion in 2012 and $338 million in 2008. “Dark money” groups, which are a subset of outside spenders comprised of political nonprofits that do not disclose their donors, spent just over $204 million in 2016. While “dark money” is a problem that should alarm every citizen, just as problematic is the level of coordination between candidates and super PACs. This coordination allows candidates to sidestep the $2,700 per election contribution limit. As soon as a wealthy donor maxes out to the campaign, he or she can simply turn to the candidate’s super PAC where no limits apply. Nearly half of all super PACs spend all their resources in support of one single candidate – the candidate responsible for setting up the super PAC.

Conservative groups continued to dominate outside spending. Conservative groups comprised 55% of the total outside spending in the 2016 election cycle compared to liberal groups’ 39%.

Outside spending groups spent heavily down ballot– with a lot of success. Outside spenders focused $595 million on Senate and House races. Three- fourths of this spending was targeted at races where Republicans were trying to hang onto their majority. The Pennsylvania Senate race was the most expensive race coming in at a total cost of more than $170 million, over $124 million of which came from outside spending. Outside groups outspent the candidates in many of these races, and in the end Republicans succeeded in maintaining their majority in both chambers.

Corporate influence flooded ballot initiative fights. Corporations spent over $335 million to protect their interests in ballot initiative campaigns in the states. Corporate interests won 62% of the fights where they focused their resources and outspent their opposition by an average of 33-to-1.

Corporations funneled untraceable funds through the Chamber of Commerce. In the 2016 election, the Chamber of Commerce spent the second-largest amount among groups not required to disclose their donors, second only to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. Despite the Chamber’s claims to represent all businesses, in actuality the source of the majority its political spending comes from Big Business and very deep-pocketed corporate interests. This suggests that the over $29 million the Chamber spent on elections in 2016 was not focused on looking out for the average American business.

The 2016 election continued the trend of secret corporate influence taking advantage of lose regulations and unlimited spending capabilities to protect Big Business interests. It is more important than ever that Congress and the incoming administration not hamper the SEC from requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending. The inappropriate budget rider forbidding the SEC from finalizing this rulemaking should be removed in order to hold companies accountable to their shareholders and to the American people. Additionally, before leaving, the Obama administration should issue an executive order requiring all government contractors to disclose their political spending.

By: Grace Aylmer, Campaign Coordinator, U.S. Chamber Watch project

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a decades-long history of spending copious amount of money to elect pro-corporate judges to state courts. Back in 2000, the U.S. Chamber began a 10 million dollar effort to elect judges in five states- Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio.

The Chamber and its big business allies have spent millions to elect judges who will represent the corporate perspective in the court, limiting consumers’ rights to sue corporations, siding with corporate defendants over injured workers or consumers, blocking efforts to reduce pollution, and stymieing laws and regulations meant to protect public health and safety.

Outside spending groups like the Chamber of Commerce have the ability to make unlimited donations to other outside spending groups, in addition to not having limits on what they receive from their own donors. In some states, these groups don’t even have to disclose the monies they spend on electioneering activity. The Chamber and its big business allies have already surpassed prior records for TV spending in state Supreme Court elections. Total outside group spending for the current state supreme court election cycle is an estimated $15.6 million, exceeding the previous record set in 2011-12 by over $2 million.

The Chamber has gotten involved in several state judicial elections, pouring in millions to try and elect pro-corporate, anti-consumer judges.  In North Carolina, this year’s state Supreme Court election has the potential to flip the state Supreme Court’s majority from Republican-affiliated judges to Democratic-affiliated judges. The race, between incumbent Justice Robert Edmunds and his challenger, State Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, has garnered national attention from social and racial justice groups because of the court’s role in congressional redistricting. Edmunds, who is being supported by the Chamber, previously ruled in favor of the state’s congressional map, despite it being ruled unconstitutional in August after 28 of 170 legislative districts were found to be racially gerrymandered. The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce recently received $1 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform that has been spent on TV ads supporting Edmunds.

Another “dark” money outside spender in North Carolina is Fair Judges, a group that received $300,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which is the biggest spender in state Supreme Court elections. The Chamber, which contributed over $2 million in 2016 and over $3 million in 2014 to nationwide efforts, is the largest donor to the RSLC, contributing more than twice as much as the next biggest donor.

What’s even scarier than the amount of outside dark money spending flooding into state judicial races is the negative nature of the ads that are being paid for with this money.

In Montana, a state Supreme Court race between pro-corporate law professor Kristen Juras and district court judge Dirk Sandefur provides a startling example. “Child Porn,” “Satanic Ritual,” and “Raping 10 year old” jump out in glaring block letters set against an ominous background on an attack site against Judge Sandefur. The site, StopSetEmFreeSandefur.com, is run by a group that has received more than $200,000  from the Chamber-funded RSLC. It houses a 30 second ad, stating “for some, it’s Judge Dirk Sandefur’s refusal to give prison time to two child pornographers, for others, the last straw is Judge Sandefur’s mere seven year sentence for a man guilty of repeatedly raping a 10-year old girl, but for all, Dirk Sandefur’s decision to give no prison time to a man convicted of sexually assaulting a toddler and holding a gun to the child’s head…is the last straw.”

While much of nation’s attention has been focused on an unconventional presidential race, the problem of unlimited, undisclosed “dark” money and nasty attack ads has been largely overlooked in the nation’s equally important judicial elections, and North Carolina and Montana provide only a snapshot of the Chamber’s influence over our courts. When excessive money is spent on judicial elections by the Chamber  it raises the question of who the courts really serve.

Outside spending may leave judges feeling beholden to the corporate special interests that put them into office, threatening the integrity of our judicial system and reinforcing the concern that citizen voices are being drowned out.

 

This week, the Corporate Reform Coalition released a video interview with Vanguard Group’s founder, John C. “Jack” Bogle, about his vision in 1975 to set up a different kind of mutual fund company and how he thinks companies should best serve their shareholders.

Watch Vanguard’s founder Jack Bogle talk about a shareholders right to information like a company’s political spending.

Bogle, who founded Vanguard over 40 years ago based on a novel principle at the time- that a mutual fund company should be owned by the shareholders of its funds and not just by management- remains committed to that vision today. He fosters that commitment by speaking out on broader investor issues, for example, corporate political spending disclosure.

Bogle has submitted public comment to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the securities law professor’s petition calling for the SEC to put forth a rulemaking that would require publicly- held companies to disclose how they spend money in politics. When asked why he commented on the petition Bogle replied, “It’s the shareholder’s right to know what we are all doing,” referring to corporate activities.

bogle-shareholder-right2-twitterBogle’s remarks come at a significant time. Investor advocates are reaching a tipping point in their push for the SEC to issue a rule requiring companies to disclose how they spend money in politics.

As of October 21, outside spending in the 2016 election alone has totaled over $1 billion, much of which is coming from dark money groups that do not have to disclose their donors. This makes it impossible to track secret corporate influence. American know that more dark money in our politics is not good for the health of our democracy, but when faced with adversaries such as giant corporations it’s hard to see an easy way to make change.

One way to combat secret corporate influence is to bring it into the light, which this disclosure rulemaking would do. Unfortunately, the SEC has been dragging its feet on the rulemaking and Congressional Republicans have helped the stagnation by inserting an inappropriate policy rider into the federal budget forbidding the SEC from finalizing (though not from working on) the rule.

For the last decade, investors have been filing shareholder resolutions at individual companies and seeing promising responses from many who are interested in increasing their transparency. Without a uniform rulemaking, though, others are allowed to continue to keep shareholders and the public in the dark about how they spend in politics. Even those who do disclose may not do it the same way as other corporations, making it hard for investors to actually use the information to make corporate comparisons.

How do mutual funds fit into this picture? The major ones, like Vanguard and BlackRock, have incredible power in corporate elections; power accumulated from the millions of retirement savings accounts they manage. With the volume of shares they control, the major mutual funds can and should support shareholder resolutions calling for political spending disclosure. Instead, Vanguard, specifically, either votes against or abstains from voting for these resolutions at the companies where its clients’ savings are invested. The weight of the major mutual fund vote means that many times resolutions fail to get majority support without it.

All shareholders, whether the traditional kind or those who own shares through their mutual fund investments, “are entitled to the information they want, they’re owners,” says Bogle in the interview. Therefore, if shareholders are calling for information about how companies spend money in politics so that they can weigh the reputational risk of this activity, companies should listen and increase their transparency.

The gravity Jack Bogle continues to hold within the investment community is immense, and we should heed his words about shareholder rights. The SEC should make strides on the political spending disclosure rule and Congress should not stand in its way. Until the rule is finalized, though, mutual funds should not hamper the efforts of shareholders calling for disclosure at individual companies.

Bogle seems optimistic that the tide is turning in shareholders’ favor. “When shareholders aren’t served first the world will change,” he says. “And it is changing.”

Originally published on the Corporate Reform Coalition’s website.

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