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The Solutions

Three Ways to Curb Excessive Corporate Money in Politics

1. Public Financing of Elections

Public financing is the single most effective legislative remedy to unlimited corporate spending in elections. The public financing plans now under consideration have been designed specifically to overcome the barriers imposed by the courts on campaign finance laws as well as to embrace the new small donor phenomenon seen in the 2008 election. The Fair Election Now Act would create a congressional public financing system:

  • Qualified candidates are provided with very generous amounts of public funds - more money than nearly all winning House or Senate candidates have been able to raise from private sources - giving candidates ample new resources to respond to attacks from corporate spenders.
  • Participating candidates are not bound by spending ceilings, which enables those who are the targets of excessive corporate spending to continue raising funds in small donations and spending without limit.
  • Small in-state donors who give $100 or less to a candidate have their contributions matched fourfold with public dollars, making small donors very important players in financing campaigns.

The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and in the House of Representatives by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.). The House bill has more than 100 cosponsors and should be passed now to provide congressional candidates with an alternative to corporate-funded elections in 2010.

It also is critical that we modernize the presidential public financing system in advance of the 2012 presidential elections.  Public financing also is key to addressing the corrosive influence of corporate spending in elections for local, judicial and state candidates.

2. Shareholder Protection Act

Corporate executives should not be able to take other people’s money - corporate funds from investors and shareholders, including funds that citizens invest into retirement accounts - and spend it to further their own political agenda without shareholders' consent or even knowledge.

In 2000, the United Kingdom adopted a shareholder protection act that requires CEOs to receive shareholder approval for political contributions to parties or candidates.

In light of this experience, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG and others are now promoting a U.S. Shareholder Protection Act that is tailored to the American context and made considerably stronger than the UK law. Specifically, the U.S. Shareholder Protection Act would:

  • Require majority approval of all shareholders for corporate political expenditures, including expenditures for campaign ads, electioneering communications, issue advocacy and ballot measure campaigns at the state and federal levels.
  • Mandate that institutional investors or brokers of other people’s money, such as brokers managing retirement accounts, cannot vote on behalf of their investors. Shareholder approval would require that all investors, including those of us investing in retirement accounts, directly and knowingly vote on proposed corporate political expenditures.
  • Keep all shareholders and the public fully informed of the specific candidates, parties or issues subject to corporate political spending for both shareholder approval and in public records made available on the Internet.

3. Constitutional Amendment

Corporations are not people, they do not vote, and they should not be able to influence election outcomes. It is time to end the debate about the freedom of speech of for-profit corporations by amending the Constitution to make clear that First Amendment rights belong to natural persons and the press and do not apply to for-profit corporations. A constitutional amendment is the only way to finally overcome the profound challenges to our democracy posed by the Citizens United decision.

The Free Speech for People Amendment Petition to the U.S. Congress:

WHEREAS the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was designed to protect the free speech rights of people, not corporations;

WHEREAS, for the past three decades, a divided United States Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment into a powerful tool for corporations seeking to evade and invalidate democratically-enacted reforms;

WHEREAS, this corporate takeover of the First Amendment has reached its extreme conclusion in the United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC;

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC overturned longstanding precedent prohibiting corporations from spending their general treasury funds in our elections;

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC will now unleash a torrent of corporate money in our political process unmatched by any campaign expenditure totals in United States history;

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC presents a serious and direct threat to our democracy;

WHEREAS, the people of the United States have previously used the constitutional amendment process to correct those egregiously wrong decisions of the United States Supreme Court that go to the heart of our democracy and self-government;

Now hereby be it resolved that we the undersigned voters of the United States call upon the United States Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.

Sign the petition now!

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