The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and subsequent court rulings deregulating political spending have greatly increased the influence of corporate special interests. Today, corporations are among the leading underwriters of Washington politics and a dominant force shaping its policy-making. Long gone are the days when unions and government could balance the impact of corporations. At the same time, a large swath of political spending has gone underground. Prior to Citizens United, election spending by companies, unions and individuals was subject to limits and carried out with disclosure of donors. Post-Citizens United, the limits are gone for corporations. Donor secrecy reigns. Corporations can spend to influence elections directly, or indirectly through trade associations or so-called “social welfare” organizations as long as these groups don’t coordinate with a political candidate. The result is significant growth in “dark money” influence.
When “dark money” surges and corporate sub rosa influence grows, how can corporate executives, shareholders, citizens and decision-makers best address the resulting risks and challenges? We believe our democracy works best when companies and organizations pressing to advocate their interests can compete on a level playing field and when “dark money” is brought into the sunlight.
It’s true that Unions can engage in hidden spending too. Tax exempt membership organizations on the left and right with big bucks can also support their agendas with dark money. But the resources that companies can tap dwarf those of unions and other non-profits. By one measure, corporate PACs spent $309.2 million in the 2011-2012 election cycle, compared to $60.5 million for union PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By another, ExxonMobil’s PAC raised $1.8 million in 2011-2012 a mere fraction of their $86 billion in profits that year– 300 times the total raised by all corporate PACs. The point is, ExxonMobil need use only a fraction of its corporate funds to seek a favorable political outcome.