WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to influence elections, states have passed a variety of innovative measures to regulate corporate cash in elections, a new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition shows.
The report, “Sunlight State by State After Citizens United,” details the steps, legislative and otherwise, that each state took to respond to the Citizens United decision and grades them on transparency in spending. It also points to a need for more sweeping federal reform.
Thirteen states received a perfect score of 100 when it came to their disclosure requirements of political spending. One, North Dakota, received a score of zero. All but one, Montana, either repealed independent expenditure prohibition laws or issued interpretations that declared the laws unenforceable. Montana defended its law, which was upheld by the state Supreme Court, a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court may review. In all, 22 states reviewed their laws regulating political spending and decided to respond to the Citizens United decision in some way.
“Voters deserve to know who is spending money to affect the outcome of elections. By flooding our political system with millions of undisclosed dollars this year, big corporations and the 1 Percent seek to swing elections and national priorities their way, making it harder for the working and middle class to get ahead,” said Liz Kennedy, counsel at Demos. “Voters are asking what kind of access to elected representatives and influence over government policy big donors expect in exchange for these vast sums.”
“Carrying on a great tradition, the states have once again proven to be leaders in campaign financing laws,” said Robert Stern, an expert on campaign finance disclosure laws and author of the report. “Citizens United directly affected almost half the states, those that banned corporate contributions to independent expenditure campaigns. Yet, some of those states that were not affected by the Supreme Court decision joined with other states that were, and enacted laws requiring more disclosure of what political actors were doing in their jurisdictions.”
Added Lisa Gilbert, acting director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and co-chair of the Corporate Reform Coalition, “It is important that so many states have implemented measures to hold corporations accountable for their spending, but those measures aren’t enough. We need action on the federal level – through the DISCLOSE Act, the Shareholder Protection Act and from the federal agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the IRS or Securities and Exchange Commission – to enact rules that regulate and shine light on corporate spending.”
Most states simply nullified their restrictions on corporate political spending after Citizens United, but some states, including those that had not prohibited corporate independent expenditures, also passed legislation or regulations that enhanced the disclosure of independent expenditures and electioneering.
The most creative provisions adopted by the states include those that require the names of the top contributors to be listed in ads (Alaska, California and North Carolina); require that corporate board members approve of independent political spending (Iowa); require that shareholders be informed of corporate political spending directly (Maryland); and mandate that the chief executive officer appear in the ad (Connecticut).
“After Citizens United, our 50 states continue to be laboratories of democracy,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a Stetson University law professor and member of the Corporate Reform Coalition. “In several cases, the states have moved faster than their federal counterparts to bring voters improved transparency of money in elections.”
“It’s encouraging to see so many states responding to Citizens United by imposing or beefing up disclosure laws,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “But let’s remember that even with full disclosure, the decision has left our democracy vulnerable to a corporate takeover at every level. We simply must find a way to impose and enforce sensible restrictions on political spending.”
“With a Supreme Court majority intent on pushing a corporate political agenda, a dysfunctional FEC and deadlock in Congress, it is more important than ever that states push,” said Blair Bowie, democracy advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group.”
The Corporate Reform Coalition is composed of more than 75 organizations and individuals from good governance groups, environmental groups and organized labor, and includes elected officials and socially responsible investors. The coalition seeks to promote corporate governance solutions to combat undisclosed money in elections. For more information, please visit www.CorporateReformCoaliton.org.