If you have any retirement savings, you probably own stock in a public corporation. And the CEOs of those corporations can spend your money however they wish on politics -- without telling you.
Since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations have been pouring millions of dollars into shadowy groups to influence elections. In the 2012 election, up to $400 million was funneled into these "dark money" groups -- that's 500 percent more than in the previous presidential election before Citizens United.
More often than not, that corporate money is being spent to elect anti-worker candidates to public office.
A new SEC rule being considered would require publicly traded companies to disclose to shareholders the corporate funds spent on political campaigns.
Supporters of the new rule, led by Public Citizen, held an event in Washington yesterday where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged the SEC to shine a light on the "dark money" spent by corporations:
We don't have to have legislation for the SEC to do the right thing. They have the power to do the right thing right now. There is no reason for saying a corporation wants to be able to spend shareholders' money and not tell shareholders how that money is being spent.Advocates for transparency in corporate political spending are also supporting the Shareholder Protection Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to force the SEC to enact a political disclosure rule. Menendez was also at yesterday's event and said the SEC does not need the legislation to write the new rule now.
Law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
There is no rule at the SEC that requires public companies to tell their shareholders what they are up to in partisan elections.
If the law of the land allows corporations to spend unlimited money on politics, investors deserve to know when, why and how much.
As the Sunlight Foundation observes, the recent government shutdown was just one symptom of the dysfunction sewn by the dark money infecting DC -- all in the interests of right-wing fanatics and their corporate sponsors:
Not all that ails our democracy can be blamed on the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, but $1.2 billion in spending by outside groups—at least $300 million of that from undisclosed donors—doesn’t help create a working democracy.
Legislation such as the DISCLOSE Act is still the best chance at comprehensive disclosure of all dark money. But an SEC rule will result in greater accountability by companies that decide to spend money on politics, it will inform investors about how a company spends its profits, and it will help the public identify the messenger behind many of the political ads they see.
A new SEC rule wouldn't solve all of our problems. It probably won't even reduce corporate political spending all that much. But it would be a nice change from the secrecy that shrouds political spending.
And it will give us a chance to hold CEOs accountable when they spend money on politicians who attack working people.