Today the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is being called in to a hearing in the Elections subcommittee of the House Administration committee.
Anyone attending will hear the commissioners speak to their performance. However, it is hard to imagine how their statements can be anything but a whitewash. The agency is currently falling desperately short in its mission (PDF) to enforce the campaign finance laws on the books, and has been unable to promulgate new rules to react to the landmark case Citizens United vs. FEC. For years, a sharply partisan split between the commissioners has largely prevented the agency from fulfilling its directive.
With a gaping hole left by a deadlocked FEC, advocates are now looking to other remedies for dealing with the pervasive problem of secretive outside and corporate spending, highlighted in the 2010 cycle (which is sure to continue in 2012).
One avenue that the courts left open following the Citizens United ruling is increased disclosure and corporate accountability.
In 2010, national public interest groups began working together in the Corporate Reform Coalition (CRC). The organization is comprised of more than 70 members, ranging from corporate governance and good government groups, to academics and investors, to environmental activists, and is working to limit the impact of Citizens United by exposing corporate influence in our elections and bringing new accountability to corporate behavior.
The coalition is working on doing this through many avenues, and different parts of the group are working to press the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to promulgate rules on corporate political spending, advocating for Congress to pass legislation giving shareholders a voice in how their companies spend money in politics and targeting companies directly.
To shine the spotlight on companies, within a few weeks CRC will be kicking off a corporate pledge to urge corporations to adopt policies to refrain from political spending. This campaign will send a clear message to companies that the public will think twice about supporting a business that engages in political spending.
Whether a company refrains from political spending voluntarily, the SEC requires increased disclosure of political spending, or shareholders are given the right by Congress to voice their opinion on their corporation’s spending, one thing is clear – the enforcement void created by the FEC must be addressed with strong corporate accountability.
Lisa Gilbert is the Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division