Obama Should Make Corporations Disclose Their Political Spending

Dave Johnson

How much money are corporations putting into elections? Which corporations are putting in how much? Are corporations that are looking for contracts giving money to politicians who can push contracts to them? Are corporations channeling money from foreign interests into our politics?

Who knows? Companies don’t have to tell We the People how much they are spending to get tax breaks, waivers from laws and regulation, special trade deals and the like. They don’t even have to disclose this information to their own shareholders. They don’t even have to disclose this if they are getting federal contracts.

Currently corporations can put unlimited amounts of money into our elections, and keep that money secret. Obviously there is at least the appearance of corruption here, if not flat-out bribery going on. But there is no way for the public to know because there is no way to follow the money.

After the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling opened up campaign finance to unlimited corporate and billionaire money, the public started asking the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to at least require companies to disclose how much money they were putting into the system, and who was getting it. In 2011 a group of corporate law professors petitioned the SEC to make such rules. That petition received more than a million backers. Also the SEC received more than a million comments asking for such a rule. Nothing happened. 2012 – nothing. 2013 – nothing. 2014 – nothing.

So far this year efforts to get the SEC to act continue. Also there are efforts to get President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contracts to disclose how much money they are putting into politics, possibly in order to get those federal contracts:

In March, more than 50 organizations sent a letter asking President Obama to require federal contractors to disclose their spending on political campaigns. Obviously, the public should know if and how much federal contractors are influencing those who decide what to spend on federal contracts.

In April, public interest groups delivered petitions signed by more than 550,000 citizens calling on the president to require this disclosure.

In May more than 70 investor groups and foundations with stock holdings sent a letter to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White asking the SEC to require corporate political spending disclosures.

Also in May several former top Securities and Exchange Commission officials, concerned about the appearance of corruption, sent an open letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White asking the agency to require corporations to disclose their political spending.

“Shareholders have a right to know where their money is going, especially when it comes to politics,” said Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which joined on the letter.

In June, 26 senators and 104 representatives sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to at least require disclosure by federal contractors.

In August 44 U.S. senators asked the SEC to require public companies to disclose political spending to their shareholders.

Now it’s October, still nothing. Not from the SEC and not from President Obama.

Regulatory Capture

“Regulatory capture” is a term for when a regulating agency acts in the interests of those it is supposed to regulate instead of the public. The Securities and Exchange Commission appears to be one such “captured” agency. The SEC, for years now, is flat-out refusing to required the big corporations to let shareholders and the public know what they are doing with their money when it comes to influencing politics.

For insight into why the SEC appears to be a “captured” agency, working in the interests of the big corporations they are supposed to be regulating, see the Project On Government Oversight’s report, “The SEC’s Revolving Door.” From the overview:

Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) routinely help corporations try to influence SEC rulemaking, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of SEC enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals, and win exemptions from federal law.

The Appearance of Corruption – If Not Flat-Out Bribery

Corporations putting money into the political system has every appearance of corruption. The SEC’s refusal to require disclosure also has every appearance of corruption. For all we know there is flat-out bribery going on. It sure looks like it.

The president should at least require federal contractors to disclose how much money they are putting into politics.

So far the SEC and the president are not listening to the public. The dark money continues to flow in from corporations and there are not any rules to let the public know where it is coming from and who is receiving it. This is a disgrace.

Several organizations have put together yet another petition to try to get the president moving on this: “Urge President Obama sign an executive order this year requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

Currently, corporations that receive government contracts can secretly funnel untold sums into elections to help elect (and re-elect) the very same lawmakers responsible for awarding those contracts. It’s outrageous.

Companies like Lockheed Martin, Verizon, and even subsidiaries of Koch Industries are awash in taxpayer money they receive from federal contracts. And you can bet that the amount of money they plan to spend to influence the upcoming elections is staggering.

… The president can and should sign an executive order, immediately, requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

Please sign this petition.

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