I think that corporate support of elections (which has been fully legalized by Citizen's United) is one of the more dangerous challenges to American democracy. Carl Pope, the former director of the Sierra Club (now a blogger for the Huffington Post) suggests that we could create two classes of corporations--one that gets a tax break for not being involved in politics, and a second that pays higher taxes for having the option to get involved in politics. What an interesting idea! And one that would allow citizens, not corporations, support the politics that influence their lives. I was sent this and can't find the original source, but I'm posting this as I received it (I've bolded a key paragraph about his proposal below). Regardless of your political bent, I hope that (if you're an American citizen) you'll think about this idea and bring it up at your next dinner party.
Taking the Initiative
January 11, 2012
'Citizens United' or Not, We Aren't Helpless
San Francisco -- However much pleasure President Obama's supporters
may gleefully derive from watching his Republican adversaries
carpet-bomb each other through their "Super-PACs," what is far more
revealing than whether Santorum or Gingrich is eventually the last
opponent left standing up to Mitt Romney is how they are going to get
there. If our previous campaign financing system was, effectively, an
oligarchy of the 1%, the new one is an oligarchy of the .01% -- the
people who really control American politics today are the fewer than
10,000 people able to control closely held corporate assets. This is
an oligarchy smaller by far than that which governed George III's
England, reminiscent more of a state like Pakistan with its 22 families.
The respective fates of Rick Perry and Ron Paul do show that
mega-money is not everything in today's politics. And it may be that
a sitting incumbent president can raise enough money for his own
campaign to remain competitive when he combines those funds with the
significant resources of incumbency -- so I am not predicting that
the wave of Super-PAC funds Obama will face is going to determine the
But any highly ambitious American politician, whatever their original
motivation, values, or ideology, now understands that the path to
high office lies in cultivating super-wealthy supporters with strong
corporate power bases.
Clearly, this is terrifying many people, on both sides of the
ideological divide, and perhaps in private angering them. But it's
surprising how little real energy has gathered to fix the problem --
perhaps because the conventional narrative is that nothing short of a
constitutional amendment can fix the problem.
A constitutional amendment, of course, is the best solution -- and
groundwork is being done. But while congressional leaders like
Senators Tom Udall and
Sanders, Representative Donna Edwards, and organizations like Common
Cause are pushing for one, they are not getting the public tailwind
they need -- even though polls show the idea is wildly popular. The
road to an amendment lies through either Congress or state
legislatures, both of which seem controlled by the plutocracy the
Supreme Court has created, and there is certainly no short-term fix
through an amendment.
But there are other things that can be done -- quickly, and
effectively -- that can create the groundswell that an eventual
amendment will need. An important one took place last month, when
Montana Supreme Court basically said to the U.S. Supreme Court,
your Citizens United opinion and shove it."
Obama has one important tool to move the ball as well.
require that federal contractors and their executives disclose
their political giving, not just the smaller gifts to individual
candidate campaigns that federal law currently requires. An executive
order to that effect has been drafted, and there is no legal barrier.
"It's simple -- any company that is paid with taxpayer dollars should
be required to disclose political
said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, who has pushed for the White House to
issue the order. "With public dollars come public responsibilities,
and I hope President Obama will issue his executive order right away."
A huge swathe of the economy -- most of the major players in
mega-campaign giving -- is dependent in whole or part on federal
dollars. Think about it: Defense contractors, oil companies, computer
and telecommunications firms, highway and transportation contractors,
auto companies, airlines, computer and technology manufacturers, even
paper mills. And what motivates many of these players -- weapons
manufacturers, for example -- to give so heavily in federal elections
is precisely to keep their flow of contracting dollars robust.
Contractors get 15 percent of the federal budget (and an even greater
percentage of the discretionary spending), which amounts to 4 percent
of the total economy.
When Congress has attempted to limit campaign spending -- during the
McCain-Feingold debates for example -- the right-wing response was
invariable, "let sunshine be the disinfectant." Disclose, no more.
But when Congress tried to require disclosure of Super-PAC
Republican leadership mobilized to stop such legislation and last
year even attached legislative riders to ensure that Obama did not
act to require disclosure from contractors. But those riders have now
expired -- nothing but a reluctance to rock-the-boat prevents the
president from acting today. But there's not much organized public
pressure on him to do so. My guess is that even the Tea Party would
welcome a serious demand for contractor disclosure.
But we shouldn't, and needn't, stop with contractors and disclosure.
Congress has the power to fix our campaign finance system, Supreme
Court or no. This Congress won't. But if progressives and the
anti-corruption wing of the Tea Party joined forces this fall to
demand it, the next Congress could.
The solution lies in -- tax cuts.
Non-profit corporations have long paid a substantial tax for the
privilege of engaging in politics. Tax-deductible nonprofits
(charitable c3's) can do nothing to influence an election and can
lobby in only a minimal way. Tax-exempt but not tax-deductible c4
orgs can lobby to an unlimited degree. They also can engage in
politics, as long as it does not become their primary purpose -- but
they face a substantial tax penalty if they do so. So the
constitutional principal is established -- Congress could set
different tax rates for corporations based on their political
involvement or lack thereof.
Why not create two classes of corporations. One, let's call it
"enterprise corporations," would stay out of politics. Not only would
they not give corporate funds to campaign committees like the
Super-PACs, but these corporations also would not use their funds to
create corporate PACs, the other bane of our system. They would not
pay dues to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, which uses
those dues for politics. They would engage in free enterprise --
business, not politics. And, as a result, they would have a lower
corporate income tax rate than the second group of corporations, call
them "advocacy corporations." These corporations could do all the
things the Supreme Court has guaranteed them over the years --
everything short of explicit bribery of politicians. But, in
exchange, they would pay a significantly higher corporate tax rate
than enterprise corporations.
There would be no need for a confiscatory tax level for influence
corporations. Corporate shareholders would find quite appealing the
idea that they could simultaneously save the money they currently
spend on politics and qualify for a lower tax rate. Yes, truly
closely held entities like Koch Industries might choose to pay the
higher taxes. There would be advocacy corporations. But we would all
know who they were, and they wouldn't be able to hijack the rest of
American business to go along with them through the Chamber of
Commerce. Most major corporations would welcome the chance to get out
of the influence game and focus on their core businesses.
Indeed, the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. has
a movement of corporations that are going to refuse to give campaign
money even without the tax sweetener that I am proposing.
What I find most appealing about this idea, which was first generated
several years ago by Damon Silvers, a friend of mine, is that it
doesn't require a supermajority in the Congress (well, leaving aside
the usual filibuster problem in the Senate.) It doesn't require
action by two-thirds of the legislatures. It can happen quickly if
during this campaign cycle we generate enough grassroots energy to
make candidates stand up for an end to corporate influence buying.
Our democracy is, truly, at stake. And we can no longer hide our
inactivity behind the excuse that "there is nothing to be done."