Disclosure Laws Needed to Inform the Willfully Ignorant

By David Swanson

While new disclosure laws on corporate political spending are not needed to see the forest, they may be required for seeing the trees. Knowing which corporations funded what won’t, on its own, end or reduce the corruption. And the big picture of corporate spending cannot easily be hidden. Already, pre-Citizens United, it dominated Washington. And the threat alone of massively increased spending is corrupting Washington further already. But those who, for various reasons, think we need to see the details, or would be helped by seeing the details, require new legislation.

"Higher Corporate Spending on Election Ads Could Be All but Invisible," reads a headline on ProPublica:

"The Supreme Court recently freed corporations to spend more money on aggressive election ads. But if businesses take advantage of this new freedom, the public probably won’t know it, because it’s easy for them to legally hide their political spending."

That is, the public will know the basic corporate interests behind the propaganda, but not necessarily the original sources of the money. The example ProPublica uses to illustrate this is telling. At issue in it is not the public’s need to know who’s running the country, or any corporation’s interest in hiding its corrupting influence per se. Rather, the token expert cited in the article imagines an example in which a corporation might want to back the pro-corporate policy of one political party without offending the irrational ideologues in the other pro-corporate political party:

"For instance, a company may want to help Democratic politicians who support health care reforms that would benefit the company, but it worries about offending ‘Republican shareholders who may care more about their personal ideology than about their three shares of stock in the company,’ said Kelner, who says he represents many politically active Fortune 500 companies. ‘The same would be true on the other side of the political spectrum.’"

Spectrum may be somewhat too broad a term in this brave new world for the range of political positions held, not by people, but by those worthy of corporate largesse.

As we transition from dusk to darkness, it’s worth looking at some of the areas corporations control. One is the rapidly dying environment known as planet earth. The Atlantic reports on How Campaign Ads Could Finish Off the Climate Bill:

"Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, which allows corporations and unions to spend money directly to help elect or defeat candidates for office, the energy industry spent ten times more on political donations than environmental interests. . . .

"As election season approaches, oil and coal companies could fund attack ads on vulnerable legislators who have supported emissions reductions or cap-and-trade. . . .

"Whether or not these companies choose this approach, the mere possibility of their doing so may convince waffling politicians not to jeopardize their seats by voting for a climate bill. Since the Supreme Court has given corporations a big stick, all they may need to do is speak softly."

Now THAT’s invisibility!

Here’s another area I’ve recently written about: education. Already corporations are persuading senators to block student loan reform that would allow more students to afford a college education.

Of course complete fixes are possible through amending the US Constitution, and partial ones, such as disclosure, are possible through congressional legislation. But all things are more easily done better through states. States can limit corporate and union spending on elections reads the headline of Maryland state senators Brian Frosh’s and Jamie Raskin’s article in Saturday’s Washington Post:

"The 50 state legislatures (and the D.C. Council) that charter, supervise and regulate nearly every corporation in the land are still responding to the court’s dramatic recasting of the political landscape. (Washington state has passed a bill that is waiting for the governor’s signature.) In fact, the state legislatures have power to constrain runaway corporate and union political spending — if they are willing to exercise it. . . .

"A group of more than 20 concerned Maryland legislators has joined with us to propose a package of bills to limit the worst aspects of the decision. Specifically, our bills would:

"– Require that any corporate executives or union leaders seeking to make political campaign expenditures first obtain a majority vote of shareholders or union members approving the specific expenditure, which would guarantee that the move would reflect the will of shareholders or union members, not the whims of the chief executive or union leader.

"– Ban "pay to play" corruption (and its appearance) by preventing state contractors from making campaign expenditures on behalf of state political candidates and their campaigns.

"– Compel public disclosure of all corporate and union political disbursements."

Ohio state legislators are now among those proposing to block pay-to-play as well. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

"The ban would kick in if more than 10percent of a company’s revenue comes from state contracts. The ban also would apply to companies that benefit from state grants, tax credits or low-interest loans."

Pennsylvania is now among the states where state legislators are pursuing what is ultimately needed: a U.S. Constitutional Convention:

"Several area lawmakers are hoping to start a trend to amend the U.S. Constitution to effect campaign finance reform."

Here’s to hoping, and to doing more than hoping.