fb tracking

Activists and Investors Team Up to Tackle Citizens United

A photograph of Lisa Gilbert
Lisa Gilbert

If you’re not a campaign finance wonk, you may not have noted that a significant anniversary will arrive this weekend on January 21: on Saturday, the ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission turns two.

This week two years ago, I and many other reformers spent days constantly refreshing our browsers on the Scotusblog website, playing the waiting game to see if the Supreme Court would do what we all feared and unleash a torrent of outside and corporate money.

Despite the endless build up, when the decision came down I don’t think any of us were really ready for the results.

Two years later, the ramifications of this decision are still whip-lashing across the nation. The impacts are felt by everyone whose televisions have been bombarded by ads, all the investors who have no idea if their pensions are being spent by corporations in politics to support candidates they oppose, and by all the voters who feel like their voices are now even more drowned out by SuperPAC spending.

There are few, if any, constituencies that are excited about this decision two years down the road. A poll released today by the American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority highlighted that 88 percent of small business owners hold a negative view of the role money plays in politics and that 66 percent of American small business leaders believe that Citizens United hurts small companies. And many other Americans agree with these small business owners. A Pew Research Center study also from this week; showed that among those that have heard of the Citizens United decision 65% say they are having a negative effect on the 2012 presidential campaign. And among those who have heard a lot about the new campaign finance lay of the land, 78 percent say the effect of the decision has been negative.

There are a number of different ways to deal with the aftermath of this cataclysmic ruling, but one narrowly focused and attainable solution is to deal with the problem through reigning in corporate spending. The Corporate Reform Coalition – made up of institutional investors managing a combined total of $800 billion in assets, as well as public officials, legal scholars, good government groups and CEOs is working to do this through legislation, via agency action, and through supporting shareholders who are calling on their companies to disclose their spending or to stop playing in politics completely.

This Thursday, the coalition is calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue rules on corporate political spending. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United incorrectly assumed that comprehensive disclosure requirements were already on the books; the SEC could and should close this gap for the publicly traded companies they oversee.

Several prominent law professors filed a petition with the SEC in August, urging it to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. Numerous others have joined their voices to the call for SEC action, from State Treasurers to Representatives and Senators to the former CEO of one of the biggest mutual funds out there, John Bogle of Vanguard.

Mandating transparency is well within the SEC’s authority, and there is no time like the 2 year anniversary of this game changing decision to set the wheels in motion. The SEC should shine a light on corporate spending in politics and enable the public and shareholders to hold CEO’s accountable when they spend in politics. Otherwise, I fear the recap I will be giving of this election at next year’s anniversary.

Take Action: Urge the SEC to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending.