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Citizens United: A Tsunami of Secret Corporate Campaign Cash Is Drowning Our Democracy

(Photo: JasonUnbound / Flickr)

Today is the two-year anniversary of the infamous Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

Since then, our democracy has been drowning in a tsunami of corporate special interest money. Our government is under the thumb of the Koch brothers and other corporate moguls instead of the hands of the people.

And citizens are uniting in their disgust. A poll released Thursday by Democracy Corps and the Public Campaign Action Fund, an organization that is rallying to counter the Citizens United ruling, said, “Americans across all parties oppose the ruling; among all voters, 62 percent oppose the decision and nearly half (46 percent) strongly oppose it.

More than half of all voters say they would support a constitutional amendment to reverse the opinion.”

Further, “Eight in ten voters say there is too much big money spent on political campaigns and elections today and that campaign contributions and spending should be limited.” And the candidates who stand on the side of reining in corporate efforts to buy our political system will get more favor from voters than those who stand with the status quo.

The ultimate solution is getting two-thirds of the states to pass a constitutional amendment that declares what everyone except Mitt Romney seems to understand: corporations are not people and money is not speech. But that will take time.

That's why a coalition of organizations fighting Citizens United that includes the Campaign for America's Future, institutional investors managing a combined total of $800 billion in assets, public officials, legal scholars, good government groups and CEOs, is pushing the one thing ordinary people can do right now to begin to address the problem: Force publicly traded corporations to disclose their now-secret political contributions.

Show your support by signing this petition. It calls on the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a ruling that requires all publicly traded corporations to disclose their campaign spending to the public, in response to this filing by coalition members last summer.

Today, corporate executives of publicly traded companies don’t have to tell the public, or even their shareholders, when they use corporate money to fund political campaigns.

Robert Jackson, law professor at Columbia University who is an expert on campaign finance spending, explained during a media briefing Thursday how a flawed assumption by the Supreme Court helped set up the Citizens United disaster. “The Supreme Court assumed there was a robust series of disclosure requirements that would allow markets to work by letting investors know when their money was being spent on politics. We were dismayed to see the Supreme court make that assumption because it is simply not the case.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said at that same briefing that he and 13 Senate colleagues have sent a letter to the SEC calling for public disclosure of campaign spending.

“That is the least that we should be doing to remedy the problems caused by Citizens United,” he said.

“The bottom line is very simple. We need to know who is spending millions of dollars to influence American elections right now.” The fact that we don't, he added, is “pretty unconscionable.”

The shareholders of a corporation have right to know how their money is being used, and to judge whether the best interests of the corporation are being served. And the public has a right to know who is trying to buy our political process, and for what reason.

We don't know who will be laundering hundreds of millions of dollars into “superPACs” and through such corporate lobbying groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And we should.

Getting the SEC to pull back the curtain covering up corporate campaign cash is one concrete thing we can to today, and it would be a big first step toward taking our democracy back.

We’ve seen the damage that secret campaign cash can do in the 2010 midterm elections. We’re seeing the havoc that secret “Super PAC” money is wreaking on the Republican presidential race. And we shudder to think what is going to happen in the general election.

Let's not wait to find out. Tell the SEC: No more secret political money. Make all publicly traded corporations disclose their campaign spending to the public.

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