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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 26, 2010


Martin Lobel, Neiman Watchdog - Congress still has remedies to protect the country from abusive corporate political spending. Here are several of them:

- Congress and the SEC have the power to make sure that corporate political spending reflects the will of the shareholders, not just management. There is absolutely no dispute that boards of directors have a fiduciary obligation to represent the interests of the shareholders, although, unfortunately, since boards are chosen by management, this has been honored more in its breach than its observance.

- As a partial solution, the SEC and the FEC should promulgate rules before the next election to ensure that decisions on corporate political spending represent the desires of the shareholders. This could be done by requiring boards of directors to poll shareholders before making any specific political expenditure. Boards should be required to vote on each such political expenditure and publicly reveal every member's vote. Ads paid for by a corporation or group of corporations should be required to reveal who was paying for it and perhaps, like a candidate, the Chairman of the Board should be required to appear and say the board approved the ad.

- In order to prevent money laundering, bundling the cost of such ads under a group's name should be prohibited so the public really knows who paid for the ad. Shareholders who disapproved of such expenditures should be allowed to get from the corporation their proportionate share of the expenditure. This wouldn't have much effect if an individual wanted his money, but it would have an effect if pension funds and other large investors demanded their money.

- In addition, foreign owned or controlled (5 percent or more?) corporations should be prohibited from spending money to influence American elections.

- Congress ought to explicitly prohibit corporations from deducting the cost of such ads from their income so that taxpayers are not subsidizing them.

- Congress should prohibit corporations that are government contractors from spending money on such ads. Such spending would seem to fall within the same rationale that the Court recognized in continuing to prohibit direct corporate contributions to politicians or upholding the Hatch Act.

If any member of the Court voted to strike down such clearly constitutional restrictions on corporate spending, it would then be time to discuss impeachment for subverting the Constitution.

We should remember what Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1864:

"We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . . It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."

Fran Korten, Yes! - Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of Americans, including, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including those of Ben & Jerry's, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former head of Delta Airlines.

Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast air time for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid advertisements in reaching the public through television where most political spending goes.

Ban political advertising by corporations that receive government money, hire lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that many observers have noted is that the Court's ruling will allow foreign corporations to influence U.S. elections.

Impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) proposes this, calling it "The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act."

Prohibit companies from trading their stock on national exchanges if they make political contributions and expenditures.



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