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Citizens United may turn businesses into political parties: panel

By Daniel Tencer
Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:09 EDT
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The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision could turn businesses into mini political parties, something that businesses themselves don’t want, said experts at a Washington economic development panel.

The Supreme Court brought down Citizens United in January of this year, effectively overturning a century of campaign finance laws and allowing unlimited, secret spending by special interest groups. That seemed like good news for special interest groups and corporations seeking friendly policies in Washington.

But according to a poll (PDF) conducted by the Committee for Economic Development, a majority of business owners don’t look forward to spending ever-increasing amounts of money on elections in order to have their interests represented in Washington. And some feel that the blending of business and politics under the new regime will undermine both businesses and lawmaking.

Sixty-one of the business leaders surveyed by the CED said they felt pressured to contribute to political efforts, the survey stated.

Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College, told a CED panel last week that the new spending rules appear to be leading to a “political arms race” where companies are being pressured into spending money on elections that they would otherwise be spending on their business.

“This poll underscores what business people across America already know: the political system is broken and large amounts of money are flooding the system and corrupting the democratic process,” said Ed Kangas, a CED trustee and former CEO of accounting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

“These huge undisclosed contributions that pay for campaign ads are distorting the political process and are a major reason why Congress has become so dysfunctional,” he added.

Corporate spending on elections “has become so blatant … that the American people have finally figured it out,” Kangas told a discussion panel last week.

Speaking at the panel, Politico assistant managing editor Jeannie Cummings argued that Citizens United will turn some businesses and industries into political forces of their own, independent of any one political party. Cummings named ethanol and coal as examples of industries becoming “strong subsets of corporate parties,” according to Courthouse News.

DAMAGED CORPORATE REPUTATIONS?

According to DEC, two-thirds of business leaders polled agreed with the statement, “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”

Evidence that this is the case is beginning to emerge. This summer, retailer Target came under political pressure from some its customers — including calls for a boycott — after it was revealed the company had given $150,000 to a special interest group running ads for Minnesota Republican candidate Tom Emmer, an opponent of gay rights. Target’s CEO ended up apologizing for the move.

More than 75 percent of business leaders surveyed agreed that corporations should always disclose their political contributions, even if they are sent to third-party groups that don’t publish their donations.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which campaigns against corporate influence in elections, told the panel that undisclosed contributions amount to the “legalized bribery of our elected officials.”

“Wertheimer supports increased small-donor participation with donations matched by public funds,” reports Courthouse News.

 
 
 
 
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