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Thursday, May 16, 2013 03:09 pm

Corporate cowards divert shareholder funds into ‘dark money’

If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court pretends, they certainly are loudmouths, constantly telling us how great they are and spreading their names everywhere.

Amazingly, though, these corporate creatures have suddenly turned demure, insisting that they don’t want to draw any attention to themselves. That’s because, in this case, corporations are not selling, they’re buying – specifically, trying to buy public office for their pet political candidates by funneling millions of corporate dollars through such front groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In turn, the fronts use the money to air nasty attack ads that smear the opponents of the pro-corporate candidates.

Why do corporations need a middleman? Because the ads are so partisan and vicious that they would appall and anger millions of customers, employees and shareholders of the corporation. So, rather than besmirch their own names, the corporate powers have meekly retreated behind the skirt of Republican political outfits like the Chamber.

But don’t front groups have to report (at least to election authorities) who’s really behind their ads, so voters can make informed decisions? No. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizen United edict in 2010, such groups can now pour unlimited sums of corporate cash into elections without ever disclosing the names of their funders. This “dark money” channel has essentially established secret political campaigning in America.

That’s why shareholders and other democracy advocates are asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to rule that the corporate giants it regulates must reveal to shareholders all political donations their executives make with corporate funds. After all, the millions of dollars the executives are using to play politics don’t belong to them – it is shareholder money. And by no means do shareholders march in lockstep on which political candidates to support or oppose.

Hide and seek can be a fun game for kids, but it’s infuriating when CEOs play it in our elections. Last year, corporate interests sought to elect their candidates by hiding much of their politicking not only from company owners but also from voters. In all, $352 million in “dark money” poured into our 2012 elections, the bulk of it from corporations that covertly pumped it into secretive trade associations and such scams as “social welfare charities,” run by the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.

Since underhanded, anonymous electioneering puts a fatal curse on democracy, the SEC should at least compel corporate managers to tell their owners – i.e., the shareholders – how and on whom their money is being gambled in political races. It’s a simple reform, but – oh, lordy – what a fury it has caused among the political players.

A rare joint letter from the U.S. Chamber, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers has been sent to the CEOs of the 200 largest corporations in our country, rallying them to the barricades in a frenetic lobbying effort to stop this outbreak of honest, democratic disclosure.

House Republicans are even going to the extreme of trying to make it illegal for the SEC to let shareholders (and the voting public) know which campaigns are being backed by cash from which corporations. Hyperventilating, these powerful scaredy cats claim to be intimidated by the very suggestion that they tell the people what they’re doing in public elections.   

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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