This morning a petition with over 75,000 signatures that urges the end of political campaign contributions will be delivered at Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC. The signatures include over 24,000 Bank of America customers and 2200 of the company’s shareholders. The letter urges the nation’s second largest bank to stay out of electoral politics and end all donations to any political candidates or super PACs.
Two years after the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the delivery of signatures at 10:00 a.m. EST this morning is one sign that citizens are reacting against what they perceive to be the the growing influence of corporations in American elections.
The NGO SumOfUs.org, which launched the petition, has received the support of organizations including Trillium Asset Management. In an open letter endorsing SumOfUs.org’s petition, Trillium points out that BofA spent $2.1 million dollars alone during the 2007-2008 election cycle. That figure, however, does not include checks sent to trade organizations and tax-exempt, or “Astroturf” organizations that are technically non-profits but channel corporate money to fund a political agenda. Meanwhile polls indicate voters of all persuasions are worried, if not fed up, by the new era of big money politics, and some companies are even launching their own campaigns against the most controversial Supreme Court case in a generation.
And it is the money spent by organizations on initiatives other than traditional candidates’ political campaigns that has riled up more voters. This election will set new records spent on elections at all levels of government. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, spent anywhere between $50 and $75 million during the 2010 campaigns and that amount will surely spike this year. Not only is the increasing amount of corporate money influencing American political life, but often there is little or even no transparency on the source of such funds. During the 2004 and 2006 election cycles in the U.S., almost 100 percent of all political donations were identified. By 2010, that proportion had crashed to 32 percent.
Citizens United may have changed the face of political campaigns, but it could also be in the early stages of redefining the nature of corporate governance and how executives and boards deal with their stakeholders. Several companies, including Wells Fargo, IBM and Colgate Palmolive, have developed policies banning the practice of corporate spending on political campaigns. And the recent trials of ALEC and the backlash against the Heartland Institute are warning business executives and boards of directors to be careful about the company they keep.
SumOfUs.org’s founder Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman believes BofA could make better use of the money spent on political contributions to provide small business loans or assisting homeowners with underwater mortgages stay in their homes. Will the petition make any difference and will BoA executives listen? The webcast of Bank of America’s annual meeting starts tomorrow at 10 a.m. EST sharp. Shareholders cannot change a Supreme Court decision, but they can slowly influence how a company can or cannot spend its money–money that could, after all, have gone to them instead.
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” – Thomas Jefferson
Photo of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC courtesy Leon Kaye.