Birthday cake, party hats, boxes of presents, and protest signs calling for an end to the corporate takeover of our elections.
These, along with scores of activists who gathered to deliver birthday messages urging disclosure and accountability to one of the nation’s biggest dark money groups, were the main ingredients of the rally organized by Public Citizen and our partners in the Corporate Reform Coalition on Friday, Oct. 19.
Held in mock celebration of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 100th “birthday,” the demonstration occurred outside of the U.S. Chamber’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where activists held up signs with messages like “Democracy is NOT 4 sale!” and “End Corporate Rule.”
The Chamber, which has pledged to spend as much as $100 million in corporate money to influence elections across the country, bears a significant portion of the responsibility for keeping our TV screens clear of useful information and facts, like who really paid for its pro-corporate ads (hint: corporations).
You’ve never seen a political ad that said, “Paid for by Chevron” or “I’m Dow Chemical and I approve this message,” right? But that doesn’t mean these corporations aren’t spending millions to influence our votes. That’s because the Chamber uses its 506(c) trade association status to accept millions from its massive corporate sponsors and spend unlimited corporate funds in elections without disclosing which corporations are actually paying for the ads.
Four years ago this month, the world’s financial sector exploded, shooting shrapnel through the economy. Wounds fester to this day.
Last year this month, public outrage at Wall Street and general corporate corruption exploded in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Benefits abound.
Defying easy definition, with no leadership structure, no official spokesperson, no office, not even a proverbial mission statement, “Occupations” rapidly proliferated through the United States and overseas. And the accomplishments of this otherwise amorphous energy have been concrete and sweeping. Here are a just a few:
OWS unburied from overlooked economics studies and made common knowledge the harsh reality of income inequality. “We are the 99 percent,” declared this movement. Among the alarming statistics: The wealthiest 400 Americans have more savings that half the entire national population.
Sniffed at by some for unformed/nebulous views, the OccupyTheSEC group penned an authoritative 300-page analysis of the complex Wall Street Reform Act Volcker Rule. While Wall Street’s high paid lawyers publicly complained about the rule’s difficulty, this Occupy group, composed of former derivative traders surgically dissected each detail of the federal proposal, identifying strength and weaknesses. Since then, senior staff at Washington regulatory agencies have consulted these Occupy experts.
Oppressed American workers, including those in beleaguered unions, drew energy from Occupy help. In New York City, for example, Occupy protestors joined in a symbolic 99 picket lines at work sites and banks. Occupy’s support for Con-Edison workers in New York locked out of their resulted in reciprocal support for specific OWS actions.
OWS increased attention to the corruption of corporate money in politics. Occupy proved important in approval of the STOCK Act, making members of Congress subject to the same anti-insider trading laws as average Americans. Occupy drew attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United” that reduced restrictions on corporate spending. That resulted in further support for the DISCLOSE Act as well as a constitutional amendment to reverse the court’s decision.
Movement or moment? Traditional conflict has supplanted OWS in the media, namely political elections. But self-identified Occupy members remain vigilant. The OccupyTheSEC gang, as noted, has continued its expert efforts on a widening front. But just as communication revolutionizes yearly (email, social networking, Twitter, livestreaming), it may be impossible to track the trajectory of Occupy. Rather, Occupy may be shattering such distinctions as movement and moment. This non-organization organization Occupy, may, in fact, be a verb.
There’s good news and bad news in the campaign finance world.
Here’s the bad news. Since January 2010 we’ve been living with the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and of subsequent court cases that have brought us unlimited corporate spending, unlimited individual spending, Super PACs, and what will likely be the first ever billion dollar election. Dark money is pouring into the race from nonprofits while a feckless FEC and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allow their existing loophole-ridden rules and regulations to be trampled and ignored, and refuse to promulgate new more effective ones. Corporations are funneling money into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for campaign related expenditures, whoops, I mean “educational activities.” And in the meantime, voters have been left completely in the dark by a Congress too polarized to pass the DISCLOSE Act.
However, there is some good news to report. The Corporate Reform Coalition has released a report detailing the work of corporate responsibility advocates titled, “Sunlight for Shareholders.” Made up of institutional investors, good governance groups, academics, small businesses, elected officials and more, the Corporate Reform Coalition has developed an innovative approach to dealing with corporate spending in elections. Though our system of money in politics is in crisis, the report shows there are attainable solutions.
On the federal level much is being done to create a system where corporations are accountable to both their shareholders and to voters. Advocates continue to press for the DISCLOSE Act and its life beyond this session’s Republican filibuster, as well as for the Shareholder Protection Act (SPA). There is broad public support for these reforms. In a recent poll conducted by Clarus Research Group on behalf of Common Good, 88 percent of respondents said that all campaign contributions and expenditures should be disclosed. Another poll commissioned by Common Cause showed 80 percent of respondents agreed that corporations should be required to get approval from shareholders before spending money on politics. Even more ground has been gained at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) where a group of law professors submitted a petition last August asking the agency to create a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. The rule has the support of SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar, as well as 43 members of Congress. The petition has also been met with astounding support from the public. More than 300,000 people have left supportive comments for the petition; beating the previous all-time comment record by more than 100,000.
Billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch are looking to call the shots in the 2012 elections.
The Koch brothers are using their vast financial resources to push policies and candidates that favor the one percent, at the expense of the rest of us. If left unchecked, these schemes would be disastrous for our democracy.
The Koch strategy?
Diminish the rights of ordinary people and maximize those of corporations and the super-wealthy.
Shareholders and activists are gathering in Chicago today to protest corporate political spending, and Target stands front and center in their bulls-eye.
Flickr photo by jpellgen
Target’s political spending practices have landed the company in hot water before, so shareholders are rightfully concerned. In 2010, Target came under fire for contributing $150,000 to MN Forward, a group backing Tom Emmer, an extreme right-wing candidate for governor of Minnesota. Emmer was outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage, including supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
The contribution prompted a firestorm of protests and boycotts around the country. In a viral YouTube video, a woman cut up her Target card and explained why she returned every item she recently bought from the store.
“They’ve lost every purchase from my family,” she says in the video. “I’m going to boycott Target until they make this right.”