8 Initiatives to Fight Big Money in Politics – Part 2

This is a continuation of a prior post concerning initiatives to fight big money in politics.  In that post, 4 initiatives were discussed in which action can be taken to reduce the influence of big money in politics and in our government or, at least, bring attention to that need. This post discusses 4 more initiatives.

5. SEC Regulation

This initiative involves soliciting the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a rules change in order to provide more transparency in corporate political spending. One of the arguments used by the Supreme Court in substantiating its Citizens United decision was that there would be full disclosure and transparency in corporate political spending, so there was no need to worry. However, this has turned out not to be the case. Because of the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC), disclosure rules are becoming more and more ineffective because of all the loopholes. Even Congress tried to pass a law requiring all publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending, but has twice failed. Many are now looking to the SEC to act. Since the SEC has rulemaking authority in this area, it has the power to require disclosure.

A petition soliciting the SEC to require publicly traded corporations to disclose political spending was started in July 2011 by a group of 10 experts in corporate and securities law. Because of the large number of petition signers, the SEC has asked for public comment on the issue. There have been almost 700,000 individuals and groups that have made public comment, either by signing the petition or going directly to the SEC website. Groups that have made public comment include mutual fund managers, institutional asset managers, pension fund managers, and state treasurers. This issue has received more comments than any other issue in SEC history. The SEC appeared poised to make a decision in 2013 since the issue was added to the SEC’s docket that year. However, the SEC never took it up. The issue is not currently on the SEC’s docket for 2014, so it remains to be seen when the SEC will act. If you would like to sign the petition, click here.

6. Shareholder Resolutions

Instead of waiting for the SEC to act, this initiative involves using shareholder resolutions to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending in order to provide transparency and accountability to their shareholders. Shareholders deserve to know how corporate officials are spending their money to ensure that it is being spent in the company’s best interests and not on the pet political interests of individual corporate officials. Increasingly, even corporate officials are seeing the value in transparency as a way for corporate America to regain the public’s trust.

Prior to the early 2000s, there were few, if any companies, disclosing their political spending. In 2003, the Center for Political Accountability began the task of encouraging corporations to voluntarily disclose political spending (soft money and payments to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations that are used for political purposes). Since that time, a growing number of the largest publicly traded corporations in the U.S. are now disclosing their political spending, including more than half of the S&P 100. Click here to see the list of those companies and the Center for Political Accountability’s full 2013 report on corporate political accountability and disclosure.

If you hold shares in a publicly traded company, you can participate in this initiative. Always open and read your proxy materials. There may be a vote being taken on a shareholder resolution to require disclosure of the company’s political spending at the next annual shareholder meeting. You may even be able to initiate a shareholder resolution yourself. It is a simple process, but there may be a deadline involved. You don’t have to own a high dollar amount of stock either. Since the secretary of the corporation is the official assigned to handle shareholder resolutions, check with that official to see what is required. You may have to contact the company’s public relations department to get the secretary’s contact information. Even if the resolution fails to get the needed amount of votes to pass, the company’s management may choose to implement it anyway based on the number of shareholders who voted for it.

7. Stamp Stampede

Join the Stamp Stampede. This initiative creates more awareness for the issue of big money in politics. It involves the stamping of money and then putting that money into circulation. This spreads the message to a wider audience. The project was started by a group called People Power Initiatives (PPI). The group is headed by Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream). In order to participate in this action, the purchase of a stamping device from PPI is required. You can choose one of four different messages for your stamp: “Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians”, “Stamp Money Out of Politics”, “Corporations are Not People”, and “Not To Be Used for Buying Elections”. T-Shirts and magnets can also be purchased. Click here to go to the PPI store to purchase. They were offering a special deal on one of their stamps. Click here to see if they are still offering a 50% discount (use discount code PFAW50).

8. FEC Regulation

The last initiative involves soliciting the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to take action. The FEC has become so paralyzed that it cannot adequately enforce existing campaign finance laws and regulations nor make needed changes to regulations based on court rulings over the last several years. The FEC is considered to be the most dysfunctional of all the government agencies. The FEC consists of 6 members, 3 chosen by Senate Republican leadership and 3 chosen by Senate Democratic leadership. As the political atmosphere in Washington has become more and more partisan over the years, the FEC has become more and more dysfunctional. Because any decision requires at least 4 of the 6 commissioners to agree, very little (if anything) now gets done. The FEC was deadlocked throughout the entire 2011-2012 election cycle. Click here to read more.

In December 2013, FEC commissioners were deadlocked along party lines on whether to pursue allegations made against Karl Rove’s non-profit 501(c)4 group, Crossroads GPS. Watchdog groups had filed a complaint asserting that Crossroads GPS was not a social welfare group since it appeared to be operating as a political committee or super PAC and, as such, should be required to disclose its donors. Because of the deadlock, the complaint was dismissed. Click here to read more.

Click here to contact the commissioners and tell them to take action to enforce campaign finance laws and regulations and modify regulations as needed based on court rulings, especially those concerning disclosure of political spending. Tell them that one of the arguments used by the Supreme Court in substantiating its Citizens United decision was the existence of full disclosure and transparency. Tell the FEC commissioners that they must do their jobs.


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