Last week marked the second anniversary of the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of corporations to fund political campaigns. Opposition to Citizens United has been building, but the anniversary is a pertinent one as the country is currently bearing witness to the impact of this decision on the outcome of the Republican presidential race. Opposition groups, outraged public citizens, and even companies are taking action to oppose the superPACS that are having more influence on the election than the candidates themselves, and to build support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case. Here’s a look at what’s been going on around the country.
SuperPACs Heavily Influencing the Republican Primary
In the Republican presidential primary, each of the major candidates has a superPAC that is aligned with their campaigns. According to NPR, the superPACs that are linked to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul have spent a total of $20 million in a race that has only covered three states so far. These groups can collect unlimited contributions which they are not required to disclose and use them to penetrate the field with negative ads criticizing the other candidates. Lawyer Ken Gross says, “The superPACs are metastasizing. I think it’s very disturbing that the groups are bigger than the candidates and almost bigger than the party committees themselves.”
Protests at Courthouses and Multinational Corporations
Last week, activists and watchdog groups organized more than 300 rallies and other events around the country. On Friday, more than 100 demonstrations took place outside federal courthouses. For Saturday, a smaller wave of protests was organized, including Occupy the Corporation events at the corporate headquarters of several multinational companies and in some state capitols. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a watchdog group that was involved in organizing the events told the Washington Post, “We’re already at a point where the public overwhelmingly opposes the decision. The goal is to build a grass-roots movement that will eventually be able to shape the debate.” The movement is trying to gather support for a constitutional amendment that would need a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate in order to pass, plus approval from 38 states.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich Announces “Game Changing” Constitutional Amendment
On Thursday, Democratic Congressman from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich introduced H.J. Res. 100, a constitutional amendment that would require that all federal campaigns be financed exclusively with public funds. The amendment would prohibit contributions from any other sources, including the candidate, and would apply to campaigns for President, Vice-President, Senators and House Representatives. It would also prohibit any expenditures that support or oppose any federal candidate which would prevent interest groups from influencing elections. In a press release, Kucinich said, “This is the most fundamental issue facing the future of our nation. With corporate, private financing we have officials working for the interest of corporations. With public financing we have officials working for the public. We must eliminate the influence of money on our elections and on our policy-making. We must eliminate the influence of special interests on our elections and on our legislation.”
Shareholder Resolutions Filed to Stop Campaign Spending by Major Corporations
Recently, there has been an increase in the use of shareholder resolutions as a way to influence corporate policies and behaviors. This tactic is also being employed as way to stop companies from making political contributions. Last Tuesday, two investment firms filed shareholder resolutions at Bank of America, 3M, and Target Corporation that are intended to stop the companies from making political donations. This initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, was spearheaded by Trillium Asset Management, LLC (Trillium) and Green Century Capital Management (Green Century). “Citizens United conferred expanded freedom to corporations and unions to make political donations, but exercising that freedom exposes companies and their shareholders to significant risk,” said Shelley Alpern of Trillium told YubaNet. “Better means exist for those in the business community to express their political and policy preferences that do not divert shareholder resources toward political ends that they may not support and which may cause public controversy.”
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.