Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
The New York Times downplayed the impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and dismissed the influence of money in politics by ignoring record-breaking spending of outside groups, the role of large donor political contributions, and dark money in the 2014 midterm election.
A December 9 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Who Wants to Buy a Politician?" argued that the "forecast that a flood of money would follow" the 2010 Citizens United ruling has largely not come to fruition. Author Binyamin Appelbaum noted that "spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections" and argued that spending on campaign elections is "economically inefficient" because campaign spending has little impact on election outcomes:
[T]he 2012 presidential election, which recorded $2.6 billion in campaign spending, underperformed many forecasts. And spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections. Candidates and other interested parties spent $3.7 billion on this year's midterms, down from an inflation-adjusted total of $3.8 billion in 2012, which was less than the $4 billion spent in2010, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
[B]uying elections is economically inefficient. Most voters, like most consumers, have defined preferences that are difficult for advertisers to shift. Chevron spent roughly $3 million during a recent campaign backing, certain City Council candidates in Richmond, Calif., where it operates a major refinery. Voters instead chose a slate of candidates who want to raise taxes. "Campaign spending has an extremely small impact on election outcomes, regardless of who does the spending," the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt concluded in a 1994 paper. He found that spending an extra $100,000 in a House race might be expected to increase a candidate's vote total by about 0.33 percentage points. Investors appear to agree that companies can't make money by investing in political campaigns. A 2004 study found that changes in campaign-finance laws had no discernible impact on the share prices of companies that made donations.
Appelbaum points to small donor contributions to argue that the majority of donations are not meant as an influencing factor:
Most campaign money, after all, comes in smaller chunks from individual donors. People who gave $3 to Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 could not have reasonably expected that their small contributions would influence the future president. Even those who give larger sums rarely contribute the maximum allowed by law, as might be expected of someone trying to buy influence. Instead, individual contributions have increased over time merely in proportion to personal income.
But this argument obscures the especially outsized role large donors have in elections and downplays the proportion of large donations to overall campaign spending. The Sunlight Foundation found that in 2012, the median contribution from this group of elite donors was $26,584. Demos, a progressive public policy think tank, analyzed campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics and found that most campaigns in 2014 were actually fueled by big donors:
Just 50 individuals and their spouses accounted for more than a third of the total money raised by Super PACs this cycle. Many candidates, including some whose individual contribution totals reach into the millions, report receiving few or even no dollars in contributions from small donors. For example, House Budget--and future Ways and Means--Committee Chairman Paul Ryan reported that all of his more than $5 million in individual contributions came from large donors.
Appelbaum also glossed over the record spending made by outside groups in the 2014 midterms. According to The New York Times, "political groups independent of candidates spent more than $814 million to influence congressional elections last month, a record for the midterms and nearly twice the spending in 2010, Federal Election Commission records show." And as the Center for Responsive Politics noted, this year's figure show an increase in the overall share of campaign financing came from outside groups. Such groups represented 8.5 percent of the total spent in 2010 and are projected to represent 13 percent in 2014 while there were "fewer people donating to political organizations."
Most egregiously, Appelbaum failed to note the role of dark money in elections. According to ABC News, "this year, dark money groups have spent $200 million in 11 of the most competitive Senate races, nearly double the amount they forked out in 2012." As the Huffington Post noted, the 2014 Senate races in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky and North Carolina accounted for nearly half of all dark money spent to target 2014 candidates. Appelbaum cited two of these races, but suggested they were "the exception."
All of this matters, because as Ian Vandewalker of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice demonstrated, the fusion of campaigns and big money can subvert the ability of qualified individuals to pursue public office if they don't have access to wealthy donors:
Although marginal differences in spending won't swing election outcomes, a candidate who doesn't raise a sufficient amount of money is virtually guaranteed to lose. As a result, candidates who don't have connections to wealthy donors may never bother to run, no matter how qualified they are. And the "arms race" mentality tells candidates not to let the other guy get too far ahead in spending. That's why candidates, including incumbent officials, are falling all over each other to raise money.
While it's true that the amount spent on all the congressional elections together hasn't changed much in recent years, that fact obscures the reality that spending is highly concentrated in the competitive races that will decide control of a chamber of Congress. Donors don't just want to buy the gratitude of a candidate, they want the gratitude of the party in power.
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
Right-wing website Watchdog.org incorrectly reported that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has received donations from Time Warner Cable to accuse the senator of hypocrisy in advocating for net neutrality. In fact, the donations in question have come from media corporation and separate entity Time Warner.
Watchdog.org's Minnesota bureau reported that Franken has received $33,450 from Time Warner Cable lobbyists since 2009, painting him as a hypocrite for supporting net neutrality as a result:
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has made his name in the latter part of his first term as a crusader for net neutrality and a huge critic of billion-dollar mergers of multimedia companies.
And while his ire has been focused on Comcast, the nation's second largest media conglomerate, he's been raking in cash from competitor Time Warner Cable, the third-largest, according to profits.
Since 2009, Franken has raised $33,450 from lobbyists from TWC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking political spending.
The Center for Responsive Politics reveals, however, that those donations came from Time Warner, an entirely separate company. Time Warner is a media corporation that owns HBO, Castle Rock Entertainment, and Warner Bros., among other content producers. Time Warner Cable Inc. is a cable and telecommunications company.
Franken has extensively denounced Time Warner Cable's proposed merger with Comcast, the largest cable and internet provider in the country.
Image at top via Flickr user John Taylor using a Creative Commons License.
CBS Evening News reported on the role of dark money -- spending on political campaigns by outside groups in which either no donors are disclosed or some donors are disclosed -- in key senate elections during the 2014 midterm elections without noting that conservative dark money spending far outpaced that of Democrats, giving viewers a distorted view of who benefited from this controversial spending in 2014.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
Right-wing media are disingenuously claiming Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (NH) widely-publicized support of basic campaign finance rules is "bombshell" evidence that she urged the "targeting" of conservatives.
Just hours before election day, the Daily Caller released a report alleging that Shaheen was "principally involved in a plot with Lois Lerner and President Barack Obama's political appointee at the IRS to lead a program of harassment against conservative nonprofit groups during the 2012 election." As evidence, it pointed to the fact that Shaheen had corresponded with the IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins about decades-old campaign finance regulations.
The Daily Caller added that a "major conservative super PAC" included Shaheen's name in a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to the IRS. "If YOUR NAME is the search term that the conservative super PAC uses in its bid to get public information," writes Patrick Howley, "then you just might be involved in something."
Other right-wing media sources rapidly seized on the opportunity to attack Shaheen. Fox News, which has relentlessly promoted the campaign of her challenger, former Fox News employee Scott Brown, trumpeted the claim as "a death sentence" for Shaheen's Senate hopes.
But the Daily Caller's piece does not demonstrate a scandal of any kind and appears only to be repackaging already-reported information about a benign exchange of letters between several Democratic senators and IRS attorneys.
It's no secret that Senate Democrats asked the IRS to clearly define how much money 501(c)4 nonprofits, which gain tax exemption as "social welfare" organizations, are allowed to spend on election-related activities. In 2012, Democratic Senators, including Shaheen, released a letter publicly requesting that the IRS offer more specific "administrative guidance" on campaign finance restrictions for nonprofit groups. The request received media attention at the time, and IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins responded to Shaheen and others with a letter describing existing campaign finance rules:
"These regulations have been in place since 1959," Wilkins wrote. "We will consider proposed changes in this area as we work with Tax-Exempt and Government Entities and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy to identify tax issues that should be addressed" in designing new regulations and "guidance."
"I hope this information is helpful," Wilkins wrote. "I am sending a similar response to your colleagues. If you have questions, please contact me or have your staff contact Cathy Barre at (202) 622-3720."
Right-wing media have repeatedly used unfounded conspiracy theories to prop up the IRS "scandal" after the allegations that the IRS solely investigated conservative groups' campaign spending began to crumble. Meanwhile, the political influence of money spent by outside groups has soared to record levels in the 2014 election cycle.
From the October 31 edition of PBS' Moyers & Company:
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Fox News used a baseless, wildly inflated figure to blame the continued delay of the Keystone XL pipeline on spending by climate activist Tom Steyer, who has lobbied against the project. The network claimed that Steyer has spent $42.9 billion on the midterm elections -- a number that is nearly 600 times larger than the amount Steyer has actually spent.
On October 30, the hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends berated the Obama administration for delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2014 midterm elections. If approved, the pipeline would transport crude oil from so-called "tar sands" deposits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast for export overseas. Fox co-host Anna Kooiman alleged that part of "the equation" for that delay is the money and influence of Steyer -- a donor and activist supporting environmental causes -- in this year's elections. Kooiman claimed that Steyer had contributed "some $42.9 billion" to defeating the pipeline:
Tom Steyer's entire net worth is $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, and as of October 28, Steyer had spent about $73 million during this year's elections, according to USA Today, on issues ranging from the Keystone XL to the Renewable Fuel Standard to climate change denial. Fox inflated Steyer's contributions in opposition to the pipeline by nearly 600 times, and its estimate is off by roughly $42.8 billion.
A Media Matters analysis of newspaper coverage of anonymously donated "dark money" in three battleground states shows that secret money's growing influence on elections has not necessarily translated to more awareness in the media. While some news outlets are reporting on the influence this new influx of money is having on politics, others are merely providing a platform for dark-money groups to further their causes.
The term "dark money" is used to describe organizations that do not disclose the identity of at least some of their donors and that use money from these anonymous donors to fund political ads, mailers, and staff to try to influence voters and policymakers. Even spending by these groups may be shielded from disclosure, depending on the type of ad they run. Dark-money groups focus heavily on specific policy outcomes and try to connect candidates to their desired outcome through advertising. These groups protect their donors by never officially endorsing a candidate and by limiting their political activity. This allows them to be classified as "social welfare" organizations under the tax code, which means they do not have to disclose their funding.
Spending by dark-money groups in this election cycle is nearing the $200 million mark and is expected to spiral even higher before Election Day. Much of the spending by these groups is focused on influencing Senate races in key states. Media Matters reviewed newspaper coverage in three states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado) to see how they are covering this influx of anonymous outside funding. The results show large discrepancies in the quality of the coverage of dark-money groups, with some papers doing a significantly better job than others.
Of the three states analyzed, North Carolina's newspapers provided the best overall coverage of dark money influence. North Carolina's Senate race is expected to set a new record for outside spending, with $55.7 million spent so far, even without counting the non-disclosed money. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, the two largest papers by circulation in the state, went beyond reporting the existence of the groups and attempted to report which outside groups were spending money on which ads -- something these groups often fail to do themselves. The North Carolina papers also reported on how dark-money groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are using their influence to lobby for specific policies, such as the group's successful campaign to block a special legislative session on economic development.
The Colorado newspapers' coverage of dark-money activity proved to be far less extensive than that of the North Carolina newspapers, producing just 13 stories since July 15. Colorado's Senate race is also poised to break records in outside spending. The Denver Post's coverage did not go into depth the same way North Carolina's newspaper coverage did, but it did highlight efforts by groups like Americans for Prosperity to influence voters with their door-to-door outreach.
Colorado's second biggest paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, produced few reports on dark money during the period analyzed. However, a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News produced a report that covered many of the complexities of dark money. The article discussed outside spending by both conservative and liberal groups and explained the difficulty of tracking dark-money donors and the impact of their donations:
"Nonprofit political groups do not have to disclose donors," Viveka Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics said. "So we could only identify organizations that filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms) and that wouldn't include individuals or corporations, so there are still a lot of donors or donations no one would know about."
[Sheldon] Adelson, the Koch Brothers and many other politically active billionaires and multimillionaires across the political spectrum are able to maintain privacy and give endless funds after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
"TV ads are number one, the overwhelming most important tool in winning one of these campaigns," Ciruli said.
In New Hampshire, dark-money groups have spent at least $4.3 million in the Senate race -- overwhelmingly in support of the Republican candidate, as of September 8. This subject has seen poor coverage from the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. While the paper mentioned dark-money groups in 11 articles, and another five articles mentioned the groups and specific policies, the paper's coverage mostly provided a platform for groups like AFP to spread their message and did not explain the groups' attempt to influence policy decisions or the Senate race. For example, in a September 30 article, the paper gave AFP state director Greg Moore a platform to attack the state's budget situation and blast the Affordable Care Act, something the group has also done in its advertising against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, blamed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act for much of the shortfall in the two-year budget plan.
"The legislature gave the administration $57 million from the last, fiscally-responsible budget to spend, and expected that surplus to last for the entire, two-year budget, but Governor Hassan took her eyes off the ball and spent even more," Moore said. "Keeping within the budget takes strong executive action and discipline, but we aren't seeing that right now in Concord."
While the use of dark-money groups is not one sided, conservative groups are far more likely to use this route to shield wealthy donors and ensuing spending. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, in this election cycle, "Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican nonparty expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 32 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats." This is not a new trend for conservative supporters, as spending by nondisclosing groups has clearly favored Republican candidates over the past four election cycles:
The problem with dark-money groups, as the Brennan Center's analysis noted, is that "the lack of transparency in the majority of outside spending in competitive races leaves voters unable to evaluate the political messages they see" and that these groups "threaten to make a mockery of contribution limits and their prophylactic effect on corruption and influence buying." This sentiment was echoed by University of Louisville political science professor Laurie A. Rhodebeck in the Los Angeles Times, saying that the flood of dark-money spending is "detrimental to voters because if they don't know who is behind the money, they can't judge whether to trust the ad or not."
The scale of the problem is considerable. The Boston Globe reported on October 22 (emphasis added):
The impact is visible online and on television. One of every 16 television ads in US Senate races from January 2013 through August were paid for by a single group, Americans for Prosperity, according to the nonpartisan investigative Center for Public Integrity and advertising tracking service Kantar Media. AFP serves as a nonprofit advocacy arm of the political network backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Brennan Center found that during the 2012 election, "three-quarters of outside expenditures were made after September 30, and one-half were made in just the last three weeks of the campaign." This suggests that newspapers in these key battleground states still have the opportunity to report on how dark money is influencing their elections.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top newspapers (by circulation) in three highly contested states. The papers analyzed were North Carolina's News and Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer, New Hampshire's Union Leader, and Colorado's Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Concord Monitor, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, was excluded because it is not in the Nexis database. The search term "((outside or independent or nondisclos! or non-disclos! or undisclosed or dark or secretive) w/5 (money or expenditure or spending)) or (Americans for Prosperity) or (Crossroads GPS) or (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or (Patriot Majority USA) or (Concerned Veterans for America) or (Freedom Partners)" was used to search for reports on dark-money spending from July 15, 2014, when the Federal Election Commission's quarterly report was released, through October 24. While dark-money groups do not have to disclose all spending to FEC, as other groups do, this date aligns closely with the increase in outside spending.
The Wall Street Journal is advocating for the elimination of decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals that prevents coordination between independent groups and political candidates -- a radical position the Journal pretends is a rejection of a "liberal campaign" but actually is a rejection of the conservative majority opinion in Citizens United.
In an October 20 editorial, the Journal praised a highly controversial federal district court judge's newest attempt to legalize prohibited coordination between Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside right-wing groups. Under investigation for suspected violation of campaign finance laws, these organizations are suing in an attempt to have rules against this type of coordination declared unconstitutional. Although the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to make previously disallowed expenditures in support of political candidates, the opinion from the conservative justices still recognized that a crucial guard against corruption was the federal prohibition on coordination between unlimited "independent" money and the politicians' actual campaigns. Yet the campaign finance nihilists on the Journal editorial board object to this long-established principle as well, misleadingly referring to coordination as a "new liberal target":
That came into stark view last week with a new and welcome judicial ruling in Wisconsin, only days after the Brennan Center issued a trumpet call for government to find more ways to criminalize campaign spending. The new liberal target is "coordination" between politicians and independent groups. This is dangerous stuff.
[The plaintiff in the Wisconsin campaign finance case] is Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates, an advocacy group that wants to collaborate with politicians on a project called "Take Charge Wisconsin" to educate the public about fiscal responsibility and property rights. But the group was unsure it could proceed under Wisconsin law as interpreted by prosecutors, so it sought relief in federal court.
The problem is that Wisconsin and other states have set up elaborate bureaucracies like the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to police free speech and harass individuals and groups that want to run political advertising. Wisconsin's GAB and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm "have taken the position that coordinated issue advocacy is illegal under Wisconsin's campaign finance law," wrote Judge [Rudolph] Randa.
That legal interpretation has already been rejected by state judge Gregory Peterson, but the state and Mr. Chisholm are appealing. Thanks to Judge Randa's ruling, at least the conservatives will be able to engage in issue advocacy without fear of prosecution in the few remaining days before the election.
It's important to understand that this political attack on "coordination" is part of a larger liberal campaign. The Brennan Center -- the George Soros-funded brains of the movement to restrict political speech -- issued a report this month that urges regulators to police coordination between individuals and candidates as if it were a crime.
The report raises alarms that independent expenditures have exploded since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, as if trying to influence elections isn't normal in a democracy.
Although the Journal insists that attempts to eliminate coordination between independent groups and candidates are a liberal plot, it is actually a bipartisan goal that has been repeatedly endorsed by the Supreme Court, including its conservatives. In the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, the Court found that "[u]nlike contributions, such independent expenditures may well provide little assistance to the candidate's campaign, and indeed may prove counterproductive. The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate." In other words, the Court determined that a lack of coordination between candidates and outside groups is necessary to reduce the potential for or the appearance of corruption in the political process, the core reason campaign finance is regulated.
With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
Conservative financiers Charles and David Koch have spent far more to influence the 2014 midterm elections than progressive activist Tom Steyer, yet for months media outlets have equated the two.
Fox News is claiming that Democratic campaigns and supporters are vastly outspending their Republican counterparts during this election cycle, a suggestion that appears to focus on super PACs and ignores the influence of "dark money" spending that favors the GOP.
On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer stated that Democrats have "got a lot of money ... and they're spending it, in some states, 4-to-1 over Republican candidates." National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg repeated a similar claim on the October 13 edition of Happening Now, downplaying secretive right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and arguing that "the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side" in contentious Senate races like the one in Kentucky:
HEATHER CHILDERS (guest host): So, a lot of this also is coming down to money. And we are talking about big amounts of money that are being spent from both sides in these particular states, so how is that going to influence things?
GOLDBERG: Sure, well, it depends on state by state. You know, in some of these places, you just don't have enough physical airtime in the space-time continuum to buy more ads. I mean, people are throwing in -- you know, the Democrats are just announcing [unintelligible] a million dollars into South Dakota. A million dollars probably would buy, you know, who knows how much airtime in South Dakota at this point. And so you're seeing things saturated all over the place. One of the things that has helped Democrats enormously is, they have actually raised vastly more money than Republicans have at a lot of these different levels. They're spending a lot more money. In North Carolina, they're outspending Republicans, I think, 2-to-1, and yet they claim that it's all the evil Koch brothers and their sort of other James Bond-like villains who are throwing all the money into Republicans. When the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side, but a lot of the mainstream media covers it as if, "Oh, it must be the Republicans who are taking advantage of all of this outside money." [emphasis added]
On October 15, Fox News correspondent Jim Angle continued the network's inapt comparison of the Koch brothers to high-dollar Democratic donors. Angle didn't mention that unlike the progressive billionaires and unions he highlighted, conservative activists like the Kochs are unwilling to publicly stand behind the right-wing policies their billions of dollars fund.
Fox News' narrative is misrepresenting the full and current story on campaign spending, which actually shows that a deluge of undisclosed outside money is supporting Republicans and outpacing similar expenditures for Democrats -- especially in the Kentucky contest.
The 4-to-1 statistic that Hemmer used may be a reference to a widely cited report from The Wall Street Journal that found super PACs aligned with Democrats had raised four times more than their Republican counterparts. By focusing on super PAC figures, Fox News is ignoring massive spending from outside right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox News contributor Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch brothers' network of secretive and increasingly political groups. These organizations don't reveal their donors, and sometimes -- depending on the type of ad they are running -- they don't even reveal their expenditures. Groups of that sort have spent more "dark money" -- funds from undisclosed donors -- than Democratic-leaning groups have.
The Wall Street Journal is dismissing efforts to convince corporations to be more transparent about their political contributions as "partisan agitprop," despite the fact that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for such transparency in 2010's Citizens United decision.
Although a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum disagree with the court's decision in Citizens United and support a bipartisan effort to reduce the unprecedented influx of campaign spending and "dark money" in politics, the Journal isn't convinced that transparency and disclosure for corporations playing politics is worthwhile. In an October 14 editorial, the Journal complained that groups like the Center for Political Accountability targeted corporations in an attempt to "discourage businesses from participating in politics" by publishing an index that ranks companies based on how transparent they are about their political expenditures. The goal of the index is to encourage corporations to disclose their campaign contributions to their shareholders, since it is the shareholders' money that is financing the political spending in the first place.
But the editorial was unsupportive of the group's activities, despite the fact that the conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld campaign finance disclosures in their majority opinion in Citizens United as indispensable to their decision that corporations can influence elections as freely as actual voters:
Hey shareholders, want some stock tips from a nonprofit outfit that wants to discourage businesses from participating in politics? That's the dubious message from a new index designed to block the political speech of corporations while leaving unions free to donate as they please.
Every year, the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability publishes the Wharton-Zicklin index, which ranks companies based on their political disclosure. When the group isn't publishing the index, it spends its time pushing for shareholder proxy proposals that would force companies to disclose their political activity.
The activist group's tactics have also included pressuring companies to cave pre-emptively and disclose political activity for fear of becoming targets. The index ranks companies according to their political transparency and disclosure profile. The Center for Political Accountability then uses those rankings as a truncheon to lobby CEOs to advertise how and how much they spend on campaigns and lobbying.
Most shareholders aren't buying it, but the disclosure gambit deserves to be exposed as the partisan agitprop it is.