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Shareholders spring into action to fight post-Citizens United corporate political spending spree

As corporate money continues to flood our democracy in the form of negative campaign ads and robo calls, people are getting mad and are taking action. This week, corporate CEOs are being put on notice as rallies and other actions are planned in relationship to first-time shareholder resolutions being put forth at 3M and Bank of America’s annual shareholder meetings.

The 99% Power coalition, which is playing a key role in this week’s activities, has taken on the outsized corporate influence in America and welded together many different movements calling on corporations to be more accountable to the public and their owners, the shareholders. This very likely means you; if you’ve ever had a pension, attempted to save for your retirement or have a 401K through your employer—you’re a shareholder.

One component of the 99% Power movement is the work that the Corporate Reform Coalition, made up of good-government groups like Public Citizen, institutional investors, academics and others, is doing to expose the high levels of corporate influence in our elections and to foster accountability of corporate political spending.

In conjunction with 99% Power, the Corporate Reform Coalition is supporting first-time ever “political spending” resolutions filed at 3M and Bank of America by helping to organize rallies at 3M’s annual shareholder meeting today and Bank of America’s meeting on Wednesday, May 9. On June 14, the coalition will do the same at Target Corporation’s annual shareholder meeting.


These rallies are designed to highlight an appalling problem: Thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, any CEO at a major company has free rein to pick up the corporate checkbook and spend, spend, spend to elect the candidate of their choosing. In 2010, for example, 3M gave $100,000 to MN Forward, a group that supported an anti-LGBT gubernatorial candidate, and their company’s political spending didn’t stop there.

The worst part of this newly enabled practice is that the shareholders of the corporations aren’t offered any input in – or even informed of – the political causes that their own money goes to influence. Again, the bulk of Americans are shareholders. Everyone who has a pension or investments in the stock market may be having their investments put into corporation’s secret political war chests—and they are powerless to stop it because they have no voice in the process.

Companies should get out of the political spending game and focus on doing what they were created to do: make a profit for their shareholders. And if they refuse to concede to their investors’ demands to stop spending money in politics, then at the very least, they should disclose their spending so that shareholders can make informed decisions.

What information we have about 3M and Bank of America’s spending is bad enough; what we don’t know but should is an outrage. Last week, this type of outrage set records at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the agency charged with protecting shareholder interests. To date, more than 260,000 people have submitted comments to the SEC demanding that it require corporations to disclosure their political spending. So whether it’s through the SEC or through the sheer determination of shareholders, corporate CEOs are not getting off the hook. The message of the 99% will be heard: It’s our democracy. It’s our money. And we will have the last word.

Lisa Gilbert is Public Citizen Congress Watch deputy director. Follow @CorporateReform for the latest on #corporat3Money.