With Congress so divided, the chances of any amendment to overturn Citizens United are slim. However, there are options available to minimize the problems of corporate personhood and unfettered money in the political system.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the government agency tasked with monitoring and regulating corporations, is now evaluating new rules which would put pressure on corporations to not attempt to manipulate elections. By requiring all political donations from public corporations to be publicly disclosed, the main concerns of the Citizens United decision, of unlimited, anonymous money, possibly from foreign governments, the SEC throws a wrench into the whole dark money laundering scheme.
This, of course, has raised the ire of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a dark money organization which claims that its donors are exempt from revelation to the investors of political contributions because they are too small to have a significant effect on a company’s bottom line. The problem is, because they are not disclosed, there is no method to confirm this, and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce having spent over $30 million in the last election trying to sway races, there is a very serious concern to be had.
Because this is the SEC regulating, not political speech, but public disclosure to the shareholders, the owners of the corporation, it neatly bypasses the Citizens United decision. Companies can donate to their hearts content, and then witness as their shares plummet if they donate to the wrong causes. Imagine the corporation who backed the group found harboring a child predator. They would become an instant pariah. We already have witnessed how public pressure can hurt organizations and cause the loss of business, or even the industry.
The SEC has already receiving cheers of support for evaluating this rule change. With the rule change in effect, the power of corporate money in politics would be dampened, due to the public scrutiny. And this is information the shareholders need in order to properly evaluate a company in the first place. Shareholders need to know if the companies they own are being run properly, without any attempts to gain undue, and potentially illegal, influence because, should a company be caught, and the worst penalties applied, the shareholders are the ones who ultimately pay the price.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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