Public Advocate de Blasio Starts Citizen Campaign Calling On S.E.C. To End Secret Corporate Spending In Elections
Office of the New York City Public Advocate
January 19, 2012
In advance of the Saturday anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has launched a campaign urging citizens to join him in demanding that corporations once and for all come clean and disclose their political spending. Partnering with de Blasio in this effort is Common Cause/NY, Citizen Action of NY & NYC, Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS), Make the Road NY, and members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus, including Council Members Margaret Chin, Daniel Dromm, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Deborah Rose, Jimmy Van Bramer & Jumaane Williams.
Citizens are being asked by email, twitter, and facebook to visit http://www.SaveOurElections.com and sign on to a letter that will be sent to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) asking the agency to quickly take steps to mandate disclosure of political spending by publicly traded companies.
As part of the effort, the Public Advocate’s office will also launch a 24 hour Tweet-a-Thon starting at midnight tonight to engage and inform citizens on the consequences corporate spending is having on our elections. Throughout the Tweet-a-Thon followers will have the opportunity to sign on to the Public Advocate’s letter to the SEC and will be encouraged to participate in the conversation using #SaveOurElections.
“I am launching this effort because as Public Advocate it is important that I help give citizens the opportunity to voice their contempt for corporate spending in our elections and affect change,” said New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “Corporations are on the verge of buying the Oval Office right out from under our noses thanks to the unlimited amounts of secret cash they are now allowed to funnel into elections. It is imperative that we send a clear message to the SEC that it must use its power to keep publicly traded companies honest and accountable if they’re going to weigh in on elections.”
The letter being sent makes clear that American citizens will not accept secret corporate spending in our campaigns, and urges the SEC to use its power to require the accountability and transparency our democracy demands. Specifically, the SEC is being asked to use its power to quickly enact a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose to shareholders and the public their expenditures used for political purposes, including donations to trade associations that help finance electioneering and/or lobbying activities.
“The Supreme Court misread the Constitution and ignored common sense in Citizens United,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Most Americans are appalled by how big corporations and other special interests have hijacked our government and drowned out our voices by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns from the courthouse to the White House. The right to free speech belongs to natural people, for whom the Constitution was actually written to protect, not corporations.”
“As we have seen in the Target case, campaign contributions can hurt a company’s brand and bottom line,” said Té Revesz, Chair of Citizen Action of New York City and a small business owner. “Any contributions should thus reflect the interests of the firm’s stakeholders, rather than the CEO’s personal political preferences. We urge the SEC to mandate that that all political spending be made wholly transparent to the shareholders, who are, in fact, the owners of the corporation.”
On January 21, 2010 the United States Supreme court made a landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission effectively eliminating longstanding restrictions on corporate spending in elections. Following the court’s decision, companies can now secretly funnel limitless amounts of money through trade associations and other tax-exempt nonprofits without disclosing this information. The 2010 midterm elections provided the first glimpse of the potential impact of this ruling, and this year’s Presidential election could set new records for hidden corporate spending. Already, a reported $19.5 million has been spent by Super PACs in support of the various Republican Presidential candidates with only the Presidential Caucus in Iowa and Primary election in New Hampshire completed. If this is an indication of what’s to come, Super PAC spending could exceed direct Campaign spending this year.
Please see below for a copy of the letter that will be sent to the SEC this Saturday, January 21st – the two year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Ms. Elizabeth M. Murphy
Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
100 F Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20549
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: File No. 4-637, Petition to Require Public Companies to Disclose to Shareholders the Use of Corporate Resources for Political Activities
Dear Ms. Murphy:
We, the undersigned, represent a diverse community of concerned citizens. We are elected officials, shareholders, institutional investors, consumers, community organizers, nonprofit leaders, and much more. Whereas we have many differences among us, we share a view that openness is a core hallmark of a strong democracy and we, the undersigned, are all united in support of the pending petition before the SEC to require public companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders.
According to recent research by the Sustainable Investments Institute and the IRRC Institute, voluntary corporate disclosure of political spending remains limited, with only 20 percent of S&P 500 companies reporting on how they spent shareowners’ money. In addition, only 38 companies out of the entire S&P 500 mention independent expenditures, such as Super PAC contributions, as part of their policies on corporate political spending. We cannot and should not be left in the dark about the use of corporate treasury dollars in our elections.
Now is the time to act. Two years ago, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates on political spending in this country. With more than $4 billion in total spending, the 2010 election was the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history. This year’s Presidential election will undoubtedly break records on election spending once again – with millions of dollars in undisclosed spending being channeled through anonymous contributions to trade associations, 501c4 organizations and eventually Super PACs.
We ask that the Securities and Exchange Commission act quickly to consider the proposed rule on disclosure of corporate political spending. Transparency in corporate political spending is in the best interests of investors, companies and the general public, and we strongly believe that the Securities and Exchange Commission is the most appropriate agency to require such disclosure.
Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York
Daniel Squadron, New York State Senator
Margaret Chin, New York City Council Member
Daniel Dromm, New York City Council Member
Letitia James, New York City Council Member
Brad Lander, New York City Council Member
Stephen Levin, New York City Council Member
Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council Member
Deborah Rose, New York City Council Member
Jimmy Van Bramer, New York City Council Member
Jumaane Williams, New York City Council Member
Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause NY
Té Revesz, Chair, Citizen Action of New York City
Ivette Alfonso, President, Citizen Action of New York
Karen Scharff, Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York
Make the Road NY
Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS)