This has been a tough year for those who care about protecting our democracy from the influence of corporate money. In January the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United gave companies the power to spend freely from their corporate treasuries in our elections. Last month Senate Republicans halted Congressional efforts to mitigate the negative impact of the decision by blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required corporations to show how they spend money in elections. With Election Day less than 90 days away, we cannot afford to stand on the sidelines — we need to fight back and take on corporations directly.
I have been campaigning against corporate influence in our elections, demanding that individual corporations pledge to not spend money in politics. Last month, our campaign scored a major victory. After weeks of talks with our office, financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs agreed to amend its political contribution policy and not take advantage of the opening created by Citizens United to spend corporate money directly in elections. Building on this success, we launched a campaign demanding that Google live up to its self-professed policy of transparency and join its peers in the technology sector by fully disclosing its political spending. Our office has also developed a website so that voters and consumers can keep track of corporations that are taking advantage of openings created by the Citizens United ruling to influence elections.
The importance of this campaign cannot be overstated. Corporations and other political organizations have already begun to take advantage of Citizens United. Target, for instance, funneled $150,000 to MN Forward which supports the campaign of Tom Emmer, a candidate for Governor of Minnesota with a virulent anti-gay track record. Massey Energy, the coal mining company whose negligence led to the tragic death of 29 miners in West Virginia earlier this year, reportedly has begun organizing other coal industry leaders to form an organization that targets “anti-coal” Democrats. And Karl Rove has formed a nonprofit lobbying group to raise money to oppose Democrats. Citizens United opened the door for large corporations to make anonymous donations to Rove’s group from their corporate treasuries. The group raised more than $5 million in its first month.
The events that have transpired since the January ruling make clear that if left unchecked, corporations will exercise their newly granted power to shape our government and our public policies. And with Senate Republicans standing in the way of a legislative response, it is up to the public to fight back against corporate influence. My office’s grassroots campaign proves that success in such an endeavor is possible—the process of persuading Goldman Sachs to change its political contribution policy started with individuals getting together and demanding that Goldman do the right thing and ended with a whole new policy.
Our online Corporate Spending Tracker is the place to start. It shows the political spending policies and contact information of America’s 100 largest companies—many of which we buy from each and every day. It’s up to each of us to call one of these corporations. Let them know that as consumers who have supported them with our business, we demand they not spend a dime from the corporate treasury to influence our elections. Together, we can protect the political process one corporation at a time.