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Fighting for Sunlight on Secret Money

By Jon Golinger

In a deeply divided America, it’s seemingly impossible to get agreement about anything.  But here’s one issue Americans overwhelmingly agree on:  Big corporations should disclose how much money they spend to impact our elections and influence our government.   

According to a national poll of 1,115 U.S. adults commissioned last year by Public Citizen and allies, 80% of Americans support enacting federal rules requiring that corporations publicly disclose their political donations and lobbying spending, with just 20% opposed.  With that kind of popular consensus, you’d expect Congress to be jumping to get it done right?  Wrong.

In fact, since just before Christmas in 2015, a corporate-funded cabal of Republican Congressmembers have successfully blocked all federal regulatory action to enact a corporate political spending disclosure rule.  Year after year, they’ve been able to use backroom maneuvers to attach a poison pill policy “rider” to the annual funding bill for the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), the agency charged with enacting sensible corporate disclosure rules.

Yet again in 2023, House Republicans have succeeded in slapping another secret money poison pill rider onto the SEC appropriations bill that would block corporate political spending disclosure for another year.  But a bright ray of hope was offered by Representative Jason Crow, Democrat from Colorado, and Representative Seth Magaziner, Democrat from Rhode Island. Both of them stepped up to sponsor amendments to strip the SEC spending bill of this secret money rider and finally let the corporate political spending disclosure rule move forward.

“Our democracy is not for sale – we need more transparency, not less,” said Representative Jason Crow.  “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  My amendment would help put an end to corrupt influence, increase transparency, and restore public trust in government.”

“Voters deserve full transparency about who is spending money to try to influence elections,” said Representative Seth Magaziner. “We must ensure the American people know where their money is going and whether it is fueling political activities including election denialism, environment degradation, or draconian abortion restrictions.”

House Republican leaders refused to even let either of these sunlight amendments be voted on.

While, year-after-year, some Congressmembers keep rewriting the rules to block that common-sense disclosure, we will continue to organize, advocate, and shine light on the need to strike the secret money policy riders and bring corporate political spending out of the shadows.

With 80% of Americans overwhelmingly on the side of sunlight, this is a cause worth fighting for.  A fight that, with enough persistence and follow-through, we will – eventually – win.