Companies Disclosing Once-Secret Donations — a Growth Political Industry

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol.

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol.

A total of 127 publicly traded companies have agreed to reveal their corporate political contributions, according to the Center for Political Accountability, a Washington-based advocacy group that has been pushing for disclosure. A decade ago, none did.

The effort to require disclosure has been buoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that removed limits on independent corporate and union spending. That has led to an increase in spending by so-called “dark money” groups that keep their donors hidden, such as Americans for Prosperity, funded in part by billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch; Crossroads GPS, founded with the help of Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Priorities USA, which supported President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

Some of the beneficiaries of undisclosed donations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have fought efforts to require them to identify their benefactors. The chamber has received funding from a Koch-affiliated group.

Today, a Senate Rules Committee hearing is focusing on the undisclosed money and its impact on political campaigns. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is one of those scheduled to testify.

“I am deeply worried about the future of our democracy,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who is chairing the hearing. “What has occurred in the past five years represents revolutionary, not evolutionary, change in the way the financing of political campaigns has been regulated in this country for over a hundred years, changes that threaten to undermine a fundamental principle of American democracy: one person, one vote.”

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said today that the chamber would vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decisions that relaxed limits on political giving and spending.  “The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections,” he said.

Reynolds American Inc. and Aflac Inc. are among the companies agreeing to identify their corporate donations. Some of those donations do go to nonprofits or trade associations that keep their donors hidden even while spending millions of dollars to support or oppose candidates.

Among the latest to agree to reveal their corporate contributions is  Comcast Corp., which is seeking federal approval to buy Time Warner Cable Inc.

“In light of the recent Supreme Court decisions governing political contributions, it’s more important than ever that shareholders continue to call for greater transparency when it comes to political spending,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has used his position as trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund to pressure companies to disclose their corporate political contributions. “As one of Comcast’s largest shareholders, we applaud the company for agreeing
to disclose corporate political spending.”

Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, said Comcast’s agreement shows that it wants a decision on the merits, not as a result of a secret deal.

Comcast’s political action committee has contributed $916,000 to federal candidates for the 2014 elections, more than any other broadcasting or cable company, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.


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