Shining a light on corporate spending in our elections

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United v FEC opened the door for unrestricted campaign spending by corporations, institutionalizing the influence that special interests have on Washington, without sufficient oversight to keep them in check.

Since the decision, corporations have used lax reporting requirements as a loophole to obscure their influence on political campaigns. Now, even foreign-controlled companies can also spend millions of dollars on television, social media, and radio ads, either through direct contributions or through third party Super PACs, without ever disclosing where the money came from or how much was spent.

{mosads}That’s why I’ve introduced the Corporate Political Disclosure Act of 2018, which would require publicly traded corporations to disclosure their political expenditures to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and ensure that information is made readily available to their shareholders and the public.

A year after the Citizens United decision, a rule-making petition was submitted to the SEC mandating public disclosure of political spending by corporations and it received over 1.2 million comments – the largest number of comments on a rule in the history of the SEC.

Stockholders and voters have been clear; they want to know the details of the political donations of the companies they own and give their business.

Despite its popularity, the SEC has been barred from formalizing the rule, largely because this Republican majority in Congress has included riders prohibiting it in recent spending bills. Congress must stop standing in the way of meaningful campaign finance reform and start working to overturn restrictions to transparency. My bill would overturn that restriction and finally allow for this popular rule to move forward.

In the absence of any formal rule from the SEC, pressure from stockholders has prompted close to 300 of the Standard & Poor (S&P)’s 500 companies have already implemented some form of disclosure of their spending on political campaigns and lobbying activities, according to the Center for Political Accountability. While this is good progress, we need uniform reporting requirements for all publicly traded corporations.

Reforming our campaign finance system will not be an easy process, but I’m confident this measure is a good first step in shining a much-needed light on the political influence that special interests have on our elections and in Washington.

These companies shouldn’t have a say in our elections without the public knowing about it. Special interest groups spent nearly $1.5 billion on the 2016 election. Super PAC spending has nearly doubled since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, jumping from $609 million in 2012 to $1.1 billion just a few years later in 2016.

As outside spending makes campaigns more and more expensive, members of Congress are struggling to keep up, and are unfortunately forced to spend more time raising money for campaigns. This system is damaging our democracy and eroding American’s faith in our institutions.

A corporation’s driving force is to make a profit, not to advocate for or improve the quality of life of American citizens. Individual voters and small businesses can’t compete with the millions of dollars these companies spend to exert their influence on elections. When the interests of these corporations drown out the voices of individual citizens, we risk having representatives in Congress that are more beholden to the interests of corporations and Super PACs than to their communities.

For too long, companies have kept Americans in the dark about their campaign contributions. We need to work to even the playing field, beginning with shining a long overdue light on corporate spending. This type of unrestricted influence was not foreseen by our nation’s founders, and it’s time for our rules and laws to catch up with the reality of our broken campaign finance system.

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s an opportunity to give the American people the ability to make up their own minds. Passing legislation that creates uniform reporting requirements for corporate political expenditures goes a long way toward preserving our democracy and maintaining a government that is of, by, and for the American people.

Carbajal represents California’s 24th District.

Tags Campaign finance Citizens United
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