Will corporations rush to increase spending in US elections?

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A fascinating article at Politico discusses the likely impact of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Briefly, the Supreme Court found that a prohibition on corporations and unions engaging in electioneering communication or expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  There has been something of a Chicken Little response to the decision, as the video in Jesse’s comment below points out.

Anyway, the Politico article suggests that the response from corporates may be quite modest.  The article identifies a number of reasons why many corporations have been trying to get out of political giving:

In the past decade, corporations have actually been trying to get out of the business of big political giving. They sided with reform advocates when the McCain-Feingold law was first challenged in 2003 and testified on behalf of its ban on unlimited corporate giving to the political parties, which were dubbed “soft money” donations.

The reasons for this reluctance were complex. Some executives hated the way politicians always had their hands out, making appeals that were difficult to turn down for fear of retribution in the legislative process. Others didn’t like the lack of control they had over how their money was spent.

The court ruling would give corporate officials that control, but many of them may decide — especially those in publicly held companies — to keep the cash for their real business needs.

Running attack ads against political targets would create real risks of alienating customers and shareholders. And, given voters’ sentiments toward corporations today, most politicians would probably not welcome a glowing ad campaign on their behalf that was funded by Big Business.

The article goes on to note that:

The penchant CEOs have shown for keeping a low political profile for their businesses has been reinforced lately by shareholder groups that are pressing companies to publicly disclose their political spending and the process by which they distribute that money.

Currently, about 70 firms, or roughly half of the Standard & Poor’s top 100 companies including Microsoft, Aetna, and Time Warner, have adopted such practices.

Bruce Freed, head of the Center for Political Accountability, an organization that advocates for such disclosures, said he will redouble his efforts in light of the court ruling. He expects success largely because a shareholder disclosure policy will be a corporations best reason “to resist the heightened pressure” to give to political groups.

It will be interesting to watch the upcoming US midterm elections and see how corporates and unions respond to the Supreme Court’s decision.

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