Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, a variety of legislative approaches have emerged at the federal, state and local level to combat the rise of corporate spending in elections. Contrary to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s expectations, which he penned in the court’s decision on Citizens United, voluntary disclosure of political spending has not become the law of the land. Rather, only 20 percent of S&P 500 companies report on how they spent shareholders’ money. In the face of this growing tide of dark money and slow progress in Congress, states are faced with a choice– sit idly as outside spending from secret donors continues to flood the electoral process or take action to bring light to this spending. The following are models of reforms that can be enacted through the legislative process at local, state, and federal levels.
Government Contracting Reform
- Pay-to-play legislation is a type of anti-corruption reform aimed to barring government contractors from engaging in election spending. These bills may provide for an across-the-board ban on election spending by government contractors – including independent expenditures or contributions to the campaigns of candidates, incumbents, or political parties. (see for example: DISCLOSE Act 2013)
- Alternatively, some pay-to-play style bills may be narrower in focus – barring contributions while a contract is being considered during the course of the contract, and/or specifically prohibiting government contractors from making contributions to elected officials who play a role in awarding their contracts.
Reporting Requirements on Political Spending
- Following Citizens United, a number of states and municipalities have changes their laws – by rule or regulation as well as statutory changes – to update the reporting requirements for disclosure of electioneering communications and/or independent expenditures. (see for example: MD Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013 SB1039/HB1499; Hawaii independent expenditure disclosure bill SB865/HB1147)
- Legislation to strengthen reporting requirements may contain the following components:
- Public disclosure of independent expenditures and/or electioneering communications, usually within a specified number of days of the election;
- Accelerated reporting for “late” expenditures made within a set number of days of the election;
- Additional requirements to publicly disclose the top donors of entities making independent expenditures.
Requirements for Increased Corporate Accountability
- Corporate accountability legislation, such as the Shareholder Protection Act at the federal level, aims to increase disclosure and accountability of corporate spending on elections and may require that companies secure shareholder approval or board approval for these expenditures. (see for example: Shareholder Protection Act of 2013 S. 824)
- On the state level, legislation has been proposed to direct corporations that do business in the state and/or spend money on elections in the state to also disclose their political spending to the state board of elections as well as increase accountability via oversight and approval from the board or investors. (see for example: New York corporate political activity accountability to shareholders act SB S101-2011)
Public Financing of Elections
- Citizens United has helped energize efforts to strengthen and/or expand public financing of elections at a federal, state and local level. These bills can vary significantly but generally revolve around a voluntary system for supplementing low dollar individual donations with public funds. Recipients of public funds are generally subject to conditions and caps on their fundraising and election spending. (see for example: New York City Campaign Finance Act )
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
- Groups and law makers have proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution to overturn or undo the impacts of Citizens United vs. FEC, to overturn Buckley vs. Valeo decision, or to undo the tenant of corporate personhood. A list of local and state resolutions supporting constitutional remedies is available at http://www.united4thepeople.org/.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)
US PIRG works with state and federal lawmakers to implement more thorough disclosure laws.
Address: 44 Winter Street, 4th Fl. Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 747-4370
With 35 state organizations and a national office, Common Cause is leading a national campaign for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and permit Congress and state legislatures to impose reasonable limits on political spending. To find your state’s Common Cause office, go here.
Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division works to strengthen our democracy by exposing and combating the harmful impact of money in politics. Our work in this area focuses on money in politics, government ethics, lobbying reform and open government.
Address: 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Washington, D.C. 20003
Phone: (202) 546-4996
People For the American Way
People for the American Way’s “Government for the People” campaign is focused on overturning the effects of the Citizen’s United decision through a variety of tactics, including the release of reports, model legislation, and press campaigns.
Address: 1101 15th Street NW, Suite 600. Washington, D.C. 20005
United For the People
United for the People offers information for activists and institutions who wish to support the efforts to amend the Constitution to rectify our broken democracy.
Move to Amend
Move to Amend is a coalition of organizations andindividuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests. They work with organizations, businesses, unions, faith communities, and local governmental organizations who are calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.
Address: PO Box 610 Eureka, CA 95502
Phone: (707) 269-0984
Relevant Research and Reports:
- Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform, People for the American Way
- Transparency for Corporate Political Spending: A Federal Solution, Brennan Center for Justice, August 2012
- Sunlight State by State After Citizens United, Corporate Reform Coalition, June 2012
- The Constitutionality of Disclosure of Money in Politics: Has the Tide Turned in Favor of Disclosure? Revealing Money in Politics after Citizens United and Doe v. Reed, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Stetson University College of Law, July 4, 2011
- 12 Months After: The Effects of Citizen’s United on Elections and the Integrity of the Legislative Process, Public Citizen, Jan. 18, 2011
- Hiding Behind the Tax Code, the Dark Election of 2010 and Why Tax-Exempt Entities Should Be Subject to Robust Federal Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Stetson University College of Law, 2010-2011