Bill Shines a Light on Corporate Political Spending

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Today five Senators (Menendez, Blumenthal, Whitehouse, Sherrod Brown and Lautenberg) and Representative Capuano, along with more than forty of his colleagues, announced they have introduced the Shareholder Protection Act, a bill that will shine more light on secret corporate political expenditures unleashed by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.

Millions of dollars that rightfully belong to shareholders are spent on political activity without their knowledge or approval. If the Shareholder Protection Act is enacted, shareholders would have the right to vote on whether to allow the corporations they own to embark on political expenditures, and corporations would have the responsibility to disclose to the shareholders and the public how much they spend on elections and which candidates they support or oppose.

In 2010, outside groups spent $455 million to influence the midterm elections. Secret donors supplied $126 million for those efforts, money that often funded the most negative, mudslinging ads. The Shareholder Protection Act is an important tool to allow the public to follow dark money expenditures that shape our democratic institutions. As Congresswoman Eshoo stated during the press conference announcing the bill’s introduction, “The issue of disclosure is something that goes right to the heart of our democracy.”

In addition making spending on our elections more transparent, the bill will provide important protections to the millions of Americans who hold shares in publicly traded companies. Right now, if shareholders disagree with the political expenditures made by the companies they own—if they even know about them—their only option to protest is to sell their stock. This is not feasible when investors own shares through an intermediary such as a mutual fund. Moreover, even if the decision to divest is in the hands of the shareholder, it is not always financially prudent to do so. This bill would decrease the chances that shareholders would have to choose between their first amendment rights and their financial security.

Opponents of this bill—who probably have something to gain from corporate political spending—will try to make the false comparison that this bill doesn’t address union spending. That red herring should be thrown back. Unions already have a mechanism in place by which all employees—whether union member or not—can opt out of having their dues spent on political causes.

Senator Blumenthal, one of the sponsors of the bill said, “The disinfectant that Sunlight imposes is profoundly powerful.” Sunlight agrees, and urges all members of the House and Senate to cosponsor the Shareholder Protection Act, a fair, common sense solution to secret slush funds being used to influence our elections. Shareholder Protection Act

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