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USA Today overlooks dark money in corporate spending story

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Flickr photo via Truthout.org

In USA Today, the recent story “Mystery company the largest corporate donor of 2012,” missed a major part of the crisis in our elections following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling.

The article incorrectly suggests that the dearth of corporate contributions to super PACs demonstrates that “dire warnings” from watchdog groups “that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision would unleash a wave of corporate money” were overblown.

The article would be correct if super PACs, which must disclose their donors, were the sole vehicle for corporate political spending. They are not.

By funneling their political spending through dark money 501c groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (each of which spent tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the 2012 elections), corporations are able secretly to spend money in politics.

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber, has said, “I want to give them all the deniability they need,” referring to the service his organization provides to corporations whose CEOs want to use corporate money for political purposes that customers and shareholders might disagree with. With the U.S. Chamber having spent more than $36 million during the 2012 election, there is no reason to think that the Chamber’s corporate members have not taken up Donohue on his offer.

These dark money groups make it impossible for USA Today, or anyone else, to present a complete picture of corporate political spending. Specialty Group Inc., with the more than $10 million gift USA Today reported it gave to FreedomWorks for America, indubitably is the largest disclosed corporate donor of 2012. But, considering dark money groups spent more than $400 million during the election, it’s perfectly plausible that larger, but undisclosed, corporate donations were made.

In order for the public to see the full picture of corporate political spending, gaping loopholes that enable undisclosed donors to thrive in our electoral system must be closed.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has the authority to require corporate political spending be disclosed to shareholders, and more than 325,000 people across the nation have encouraged it to do so. Another possible avenue for transparency includes legislation such as the DISCLOSE Act.

Urge the SEC to mandate that publicly traded corporations disclose their political spending, and tell your members of Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act.

Rick Claypool is Online Director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.