We couldn’t be more excited about the new constitutional amendment proposal introduced today by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) to end unlimited and undisclosed corporate financing of American elections. The amendment proposal is titled the “Democracy Is For People” Amendment, after Public Citizen’s amendment campaign of the same name.
Public Citizen said that both lawmakers once again are showing their creative leadership in the campaign for a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Sanders and Deutch were at the forefront of the campaign immediately following the decision, and they continue their leadership today.
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, pictured above in front of the U.S. Capitol Building leading a protest on the first anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, said:
“The Democracy is for People Amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ted Deutch to overturn Citizens United will eliminate unaccountable corporate spending in our elections and restore governmental authority over campaign spending to the people. Democracy is rule by the people, after all, not rule by Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
Now this is a rebuttal.
Harvard Law professor John Coates earlier this month took the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to task for a comment that the corporate lobby group made on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) website.
In its comment to the SEC, the U.S. Chamber sought to discredit the research of Professor Coates and other academics whose work shows a correlation between corporate political spending and lowered shareholder value.
Professor Coates submitted his rebuttal to the Chamber as a comment to the SEC as well. Coates’ critique – rooted primarily in the Chamber’s dependence on flawed analysis by the Manhattan Institute – is well worth reading, both for its passion and its scholarly rigor.
Here’s how Coates opens his argument:
The Chamber’s comment relies primarily on ‒ and indeed, largely tracks ‒ a non-peer-reviewed, privately published white paper from the Manhattan Institute (the MI-lobbyist paper) written by a lobbyist who concludes, perhaps not surprisingly, that lobbying is worth paying for.
Shareholders at seven different companies have filed resolutions asking those companies to refrain from spending from their general treasuries to influence elections.
The resolutions, where were filed with 3M, EQT, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Bank of America, Target and Starbucks, are in response to the unprecedented level of undisclosed outside spending in recent elections. According to a report by U.S. PIRG and DEMOS, outside spending in the 2012 election cleared the $1 billion mark, and as much as 58 percent of the funds came from groups able to take unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals without disclosing their donors.
Corporations accounted for roughly 12 percent of all disclosed donations to super PACs during the 2012 elections. But while super PACs are required to disclose the sources of their funding, corporations have several avenues to spend in secret. They can donate to 501c groups, and trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a political spending juggernaut. The U.S. Chamber spent more than $36 million in 2012 to influence the outcome of 37 Congressional races and the Presidential race.
With so many ways for corporate executives to funnel funds into elections, it’s no wonder that last year a record-breaking 126 political spending resolutions were filed. “The value of corporate political spending to shareholders is highly questionable, even as the risk it poses to our democracy is self-evident,” said Shelley Alpern, director of social research and advocacy at Clean Yield Asset Management. “It’s time for companies to reverse course and simply exit this activity.”
Flickr photo by Dutchlad
By Adam Crowther
The U.S. Supreme Court was so determined to treat outside groups fairly in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision that it put these groups on course to supplant the candidates themselves as the dominant voices in our elections.
That is the finding of a newly released Public Citizen report, Outside Money Takes the Inside Track. The report compares spending by outside groups, which were permitted as a result of Citizens United to use unlimited contributions to influence elections, with that of candidates and national parties, which are subject to contribution limits.
Our findings: There is a tectonic shift in how American campaigns are being funded. Outside groups surpassed candidate spending in four of the 10 most expensive U.S. Senate races this year. That had only happened once in the last four election cycles (in 2010, which also postdated Citizens United). Outside groups’ spending this year nearly equaled that of the national parties. In no election cycle since 2004 had outside groups spent as much as a third as the parties (and that was also in 2010). Meanwhile, outside groups spent more money in the 2012 election cycle than the past four cycles combined.
What can you do if you want to help stamp money out of politics? Well, Ben Cohen, the Ben from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, has an idea: stamp money.
The founder of one of the biggest ice cream brands in the country is teaming up with Public Citizen, Move to Amend and People for the American Way to garner support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections, and related cases.
To raise awareness, Ben & Jerry’s are calling on concerned citizens to stamp dollar bills with slogans such as “corporations are not people” and “not to be used for buying elections.” These stamps are being sold at cost at the Stamp Stampede website (http://stampstampede.org/shop/).
“It’s some monetary jujitsu – using money to get money out of politics,” Cohen told the USA Today.
The Stamp Stampede calculates that every bill will be seen by approximately 875 people in its lifetime. If 100 people stamped 10 bills every day, the entire population of the United States would have seen the message at least once within a year. Activists are being encouraged to stamp as many bills as they can to exercise their right to free speech and raise awareness of the dangers of corporate money in politics.
Cohen has consulted with his lawyer and assures activists that stamping dollar bills is legal. The First Amendment protects the stamps because they are political messages that don’t damage the bills or render them unusable.
You can get more involved with Public Citizen’s efforts for a constitutional amendment at www.democracyisforpeople.org.
Aquene Freechild is Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign senior organizer. You can follow the campaign for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and end our #Democracy4Sale on Twitter @RuleByUs