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Obama Is Missing Opportunity Today by Not Issuing Executive Order on Secret Election Spending

Jan. 21, 2016

Obama Is Missing Opportunity Today by Not Issuing Executive Order on Secret Election Spending

Six Years After Citizens United, Obama Still Talking About the Need to Curb Money in Politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama is missing an opportunity by not issuing an executive order today, as Americans look to him for leadership – exactly six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United ruling – to curb secret election spending, Public Citizen said.

Although the White House is reportedly considering issuing such an order, administration officials have indicated that it won’t happen today.

“The president has talked eloquently about the need to curb money in politics, but he has yet to act,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “It is disappointing that the president is not taking advantage of this day to take the one action he can take without Congress and issue this executive order. That said, we are hopeful that we will see this action very soon.”

Public Citizen has been at the forefront of the push for an executive order to require contractors to disclose political spending. In April, a coalition of groups rallied outside the White House and presented more than 500,000 petition signatures. In November, the coalition delivered more than 851,000 signatures to Obama. And in December, Public Citizen and other groups delivered a million signatures to the White House calling on the president to issue an order.

Less than a third (PDF) of the 15 largest publicly traded federal contractors fully disclose the details of their contributions to nonprofit groups and trade associations – contributions that could be used for electioneering expenditures. The proposed executive order would ensure that at least 70 percent of the Fortune 100 companies disclose their political spending.

Since Citizens United, election spending has skyrocketed, with the expectation that $10 billion will be spent on the 2016 elections. Voters also have seen a torrent of secret election spending, with money funneled through trade associations and so-called “social welfare groups” – organizations masquerading as nonprofits but whose sole purpose is to buy election ads.

“Billionaires and Big Business are tightening their grip on our elections,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Americans realize that to address our greatest challenges – from inequality to climate change, from providing health care for all to ensuring everyone is paid a living wage – we must fix the broken political process. President Obama can help preserve his own policy legacy and pave the way for more critical change by issuing the executive order.” Polls show that Americans are fed up. But they are doing something about it:

  • More than 5 million signatures have been gathered in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United;
  • Sixteen states, the District of Columbia and nearly 700 local governments have called for an amendment;
  • A majority of the U.S. Senate voted in favor of an amendment in 2014; and
  • A record 1.2 million signatures have been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission calling for the agency to require publicly held corporations to disclose political spending.