There’s a very good reason that the President and leading Democrats want to force disclosure on political spending through either an executive order or a lawsuit against the FEC. It’s because without disclosure, the tendency will be to keep this stuff hidden. Corporations will not disclose voluntarily, simply put.
Despite mounting calls for greater transparency, only a few of the country’s 75 leading energy, healthcare and financial services corporations fully disclose political spending, according to a review of company records and state and federal campaign finance reports.
While complying with legal requirements to report direct donations to candidates, the vast majority of these companies — many of which are seeking legislative favors from the new Congress — do not reveal information even to their shareholders about support for politically active trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Groups such as the chamber, some of which spend millions of dollars on elections, are not required to reveal their financial supporters. And companies are not required to report their donations to those groups.
If we were to solely believe the current mandatory campaign finance reports, we would have to accept that Morgan Stanley spent $500 in political spending last year. And that’s just not credible. Just one in five of the top energy, health care and financial services companies voluntarily reported trade association donations in 2009. The money coming from those trade groups totals over $1.3 billion.
Corporations don’t report all their contributions because they don’t have to. And Bruce Josten, the head lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, fully admits that the secrecy allows companies to participate in political giving without fear of reprisal. Absolutely nobody else in this country has that luxury. If corporations are allowed to play the game, they should have to play it in public. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism – elites always seem to have that confusion.
This becomes more acute when you see how these same corporations, which can spend unlimited amounts of money now in political campaigns, affect the debate in Washington. So you get a corporate tax “reform” that must be revenue-neutral, even though 2/3 of all corporations paid no federal taxes last year. You get an energy debate that neglects the fact that corporations with record profits still get massive subsidies based on oil prices dramatically lower than they are today. Corporations can control the debate and the public doesn’t even get to know how.
I’m not saying that disclosure would be a panacea here. But it wouldn’t hurt to have the information rather than relying on companies to voluntarily, out of the goodness of their heart, disclose to their customers how they’re purchasing democracy.