“They control the people through the people’s own money.” — Louis D. Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It (1914)
Like tens of millions of baby boomers, I have a retirement fund, and like over 4 million of us, I am building my nest egg with the venerable Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America–College Retirement Equities Fund. Heeding the TIAA-CREF newsletter’s recommendation to “diversify” my holdings, I have dutifully directed my savings into mutual funds, which invest that money with large and medium-size corporations spread across the economy.
Although I have contributed on a monthly basis for twenty-five years, it never occurred to me to find out which corporations I have an investment in. Then, in September, the US Senate failed in a party-line vote to advance a proposed constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, which gives business corporations unlimited political-spending rights. Corporate cash in campaigns is here to stay, I realized—so I had better find out where my money’s going. What if chunks of my retirement savings are being turned into “dark money” and Super PAC contributions on behalf of candidates I would never dream of voting for, much less sharing my retirement savings with?
Lucky for me, in September a freak technical error illuminated one little eddy of corporate cash in the deep, swirling currents of political dark money: the Republican Governors Association accidentally revealed the names of dozens of “corporate members” on the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, which The New York Times described as a “secretive 501(c)(4)” that is not obligated to disclose either its receipts or its expenditures. The leak revealed that the association met with top corporate donors at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California, where attendees talked politics while enjoying a “lush atmosphere” that featured the “most storied” golf courses in California and “spa sessions that soothe stress and revitalize the spirit.”
The twenty-two corporations that gave the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee $250,000 or more were awarded the title of “statesmen.” This group included Aetna, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Microsoft, Motorola, Pfizer, Pike Electric, Range Resources, Reynolds American, Sanofi, United Health Group, USAA, Walmart, WellCare Health Plans and WellPoint.
Another thirty-eight corporations chipped in $100,000, which earned them “cabinet” status. This group included Aflac, Allegiant Air, Allergan, Apollo Group, Babcock & Wilcox, Citigroup, Comcast, Duke Energy, Express Scripts, Gtech, Healthways, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson Controls, Marathon Oil, Maximus, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Shell Oil, US Cellular, Verizon and Walgreens.