A strange article appeared in the Motley Fool — a financial services publication and investment advisor — which apparently embraces the idea of corporations keeping shareholders in the dark about their political spending.
“There are some practical reasons that corporations might decide not to volunteer information about their political activities,” writes Casey Kelly-Barton, the article’s author, “the most obvious of which is that, since the 2010 Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. FEC, they don’t really have to.”
What the author conveniently omits about Citizens United is that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the ruling was in no small part premised on corporations disclosing their political spending and shareholders holding those corporations accountable.
Here’s a direct quote from the opinion (emphasis added):
With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are “ ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
Though the decision in the ruling itself was split 5-4 along partisan lines, eight of the nine justices concurred on the constitutionality of disclosure.
Of course, we now know that Justice Kennedy assumption that disclosure would occur could not have been more wrong. Congress has so far failed to pass disclosure legislation, and federal agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Election Commission — which have clear authority to intervene — have failed to step forward and use their authority to require transparency.
Thanks to the Center for Political Accountability — whose CPA-Zicklin index scores corporations on voluntary political spending transparency — there is some light being shed on this issue. But much remains unknown.
Let me be clear: As Supreme Court rulings go, Citizens United was an abomination. By allowing corporations to spend as much as they want to tilt elections toward candidates, Democrat or Republican, who will do what corporations want, it struck a severe blow against our democracy.
But the ruling’s pro-disclosure outcome is a good thing. By omitting this fact in an article supporting secret corporate political spending, the Motley Fool does its readers — readers who have a clear interest in knowing whether corporations are spending their investment dollars to play in politics — a disservice.
Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.