Progressive and political money groups say they will intensify their lobbying in the coming days to prevent four campaign finance measures from hitching a ride on a year-end spending deal. With a deadline to reach agreement on government-wide funding less than two weeks away, the effort will be no easy pitch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., authored one of the measures, which would relax limits on coordination between political parties and candidates. “They’re swimming upstream every step of the way,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University professor who specializes in campaign and election issues. “Legislators are going to be hard-pressed to vote against an appropriation bill that’s otherwise appealing to them on the basis of some of these riders.”
Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a must-pass government funding bill that would vastly expand the amount of cash that political parties could spend on candidates, multiple sources tell Politico. The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign-finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates. Pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime foe of campaign finance restrictions, the coordination rider represents the latest threat to the increasingly rickety set of rules created to restrict political fundraising and spending on elections.
Midway into a three-and-a-half-hour congressional hearing this week featuring Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, none of the legislators had bothered to ask if or when her agency would require that corporations disclose their political spending. The bipartisan silence testified to the growing importance to both parties of anonymous campaign donations. With each passing year since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to secretive political giving, politicians appear to value so-called dark money more and value disclosure of unnamed donors less.
A Securities and Exchange Commission rule designed to limit conflicts of interest in state contracting is becoming less effective amid the rise of super PACs and should be broadened, groups that track campaign finance say. The SEC’s so-called pay-to-play rule, which applies to state officials including governors, could become a prominent factor in the 2016 presidential election given that four or more Republican governors who would be in office during the campaign have said they may run or are thought to be considering a candidacy. The rule effectively prohibits certain employees of financial-services companies that do—or might do—business with state agencies from contributing to the officials who oversee those agencies. The rule, adopted in 2010, was intended to prevent political contributions from influencing state contracting decisions.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s chances to be the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee were hampered by a U.S. regulation that could have an even bigger impact on the next race for the White House. The three-year-old rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission effectively bars governors and other state officials from raising money from Wall Street for state or federal elections. Having Christie on the ticket would have complicated Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which took in more money from securities and investment firms than any other industry. Now, with governors including Christie, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana contemplating a White House run in 2016, two state Republican committees have filed a lawsuit to overturn the regulation.
Advocates for more transparency in the political system were dealt another blow this week as the Securities and Exchange Commission dropped a potential rule on the disclosure of corporate campaign contributions from its 2014 agenda. The regulatory agency, which is mandated to protect investors, is required by law to submit its agenda for the next year to the Office of Management and Budget. A conspicuous absence this time was consideration of a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose the specifics of their political spending to shareholders — an item that was included in the SEC’s 2013 agenda but was never acted upon. Individuals, interest groups, and corporations can write to the SEC to show they are in favor or opposed to proposed regulations. This particular provision garnered more than 600,000 public comments, more than any other rule in the SEC’s history, mostly written in favor of more disclosure. That fact alone makes the SEC’s decision all the more disappointing to those agitating for reform.
Ohio: Diebold charged with bribing officials, falsifying records in China, Russia, Indonesia; fined nearly $50 million | cleveland.com
Federal prosecutors Tuesday filed charges against Diebold Inc., accusing the North Canton-based ATM and business machine manufacturer of bribing government officials and falsifying documents in China, Indonesia and Russia to obtain and retain contracts to provide ATMs to banks in those countries. The two-count criminal information and deferred prosecution agreement calls for Diebold to pay nearly $50 million in penalties: $23 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and $25 million to the Department of Justice. The agreement with federal prosecutors also calls for the implementation of rigorous internal controls that includes a compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The government agreed to defer criminal prosecution for three years, and drop the charges if Diebold abides by the terms of the agreement. Federal prosecutors acknowledged that Diebold officials voluntarily disclosed the criminal activity, cooperated with government investigators, and conducted its own extensive internal investigation.
Say you owned a business, and found out one of your employees was taking money out of the cash register and spending it on questionable ventures without telling you. You’d fire him, right? It’s a pretty clear-cut case of right and wrong. Now imagine that you aren’t allowed to know whether that employee is taking money out of your profits, or where the money is going. Sound unfair – and like a bad way to run a business? Sadly, that’s the case for shareholders – owners of the largest corporations in America – who’d like to know how their profits are being spent on political causes. Now Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are holding a briefing to explain why shareholders’ need this information in their hands.
Three years ago, when the Supreme Court opened the door to unlimited political donations by corporations, Justice Anthony Kennedy made the case for transparency as the best way to keep politics clean. Thanks to the power of the Internet, Kennedy wrote in the landmark Citizens United decision, “shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” Alas, the world he described does not exist. Citizens and shareholders can’t make these determinations because they lack the basic information to do so.
American companies are discovering the perils of politics as activists and public pension fund officials apply new pressure on corporations to disclose their political spending — or cease it entirely. Companies holding their annual meetings this spring will face a record number of shareholder resolutions demanding companies reveal whether corporate funds have been spent on politics. A coalition that includes Public Citizen, Common Cause and other groups that favor campaign limits has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies to disclose campaign spending on their filings to regulators. And in recent days, Wendy’s and several of the nation’s most recognizable companies have dropped their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group linked to the spread of Stand Your Ground laws and state efforts to toughen voter identification rules. The companies’ actions came after a civil rights group, ColorOfChange, spotlighted the firms’ ties to ALEC.
The road to overturning Citizen’s United by constitutional amendment is a long one—it requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress and then ratification by thirty-eight state legislatures. The DISCLOSE Act was re-introduced in the Senate this month but is almost certain to remain stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, corporations are dumping millions into the coffers of outside groups for the fall elections. Some campaign reformers have thus turned their attention to the Securities and Exchange Commission, urging it to pass a rule that all publicly traded companies must disclose political spending to shareholders—this would reveal exactly what business interests are trying to influence the election, and in the eyes of most experts, lead to dramatically reduced corporate electioneering.
National: Citizens United Fallout: Coalition Asks SEC To Order Corporate Disclosure Of Political Spending | Huffington Post
It used to be against the law for executives to spend funds from their massive corporate treasuries to directly influence elections. But two years ago this week, the Supreme Court declared such restrictions unconstitutional — and short of a constitutional amendment, it’s hard to get around that. The Court never said corporations should be able to spend all that money in secret, however. So on Thursday, a coalition of campaign reform and corporate transparency advocates called attention to their petition to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that corporations publicly disclose their political contributions.