Thousands of Americans may be unwittingly donating to political causes and candidates they do not support in the 2012 election. It’s not an elaborate scam; it’s a consequence of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which gave the green light for corporations to make unlimited political contributions. The decision was based on the court’s alternate reality where unlimited cash (so long as it isn’t “coordinated” with campaigns or candidates), does not corrupt, and as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert proved, the term “coordinated” actually means whatever you want it to mean.
So how are Americans getting duped?
When publicly traded companies spend directly from their treasuries, they are not spending their own money, they’re spending shareholders’ money. And since more than half of American households own stock, chances are high that this election season, a lot of Americans will be supporting causes and candidates they haven’t even heard of, let alone want to support with a political contribution.
For instance, take 3M Corp., a company famous in Minnesota and nation-wide for scotch tape, sandpaper, and Post-its. 3M does not disclose contributions to trade organizations or faux nonprofit organizations like Crossroads GPS that play in elections. In 2010 3M contributed $100,000 from its treasury to MN Forward, a group supporting a candidate for governor who held controversial views on social issues.
Whether or not you agree with those views, corporations are organized to create profit, not to choose governors. Shareholders can choose on their own whether to spend money to support political candidates, but corporations should not be using their money to make the decision for them.
Thankfully, shareholders are rallying around the country to demand transparency from corporations that spend money in politics. Socially responsible investment groups have filed resolutions at hundreds of companies asking them to disclose the money they are spending to influence elections. Investors are gathering at shareholder meetings to support the cause, and in some cases asking companies to go a step further and refrain from spending money altogether.
Furthermore, a proposed SEC rulemaking requiring corporations to disclose political expenditures to shareholders has logged more than 260,000 comments supporting the measure. That’s more than any other SEC rulemaking has ever received.