WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Big Money Influencing Elections in Several Ways

Oct 8, 2014

Many Americans are worried about the influence that for-profit corporations and the rich have on elections, but will that concern translate unto a healthy turnout for the Nov. 4 election?

The nonpartisan public-interest organization Public Citizen recently announced that more than 1 million U.S. citizens had either signed a petition to bring transparency to corporations contributing shareholder-owned funds to elections, or sent formal comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Credit Rich Egger

Public Citizen and the Corporate Reform Coalition – including the League of Women Voters, the Business Ethics Network, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Union of Concerned Scientists – urge the SEC “to require all publicly traded companies to disclose political spending information to their shareholders.

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, said, “The rulemaking petition has garnered historic support from investors and the general public.” However, “the rule was placed on the [SEC’s] agenda … in 2013 but was removed by Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year. Its removal sparked outrage among its advocates, who contend that White is not taking into account the changing needs of investors since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in ‘Citizens United.’ That ruling gave corporations and the wealthy the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.”

To counter “Citizens United” and the apathy too many Americans have in midterm elections, church, union and other groups are stepping up Get Out The Vote efforts to get people ready, willing and able to vote.

The Illinois Federation of Labor’s Jason Keller, who’s coordinating one program, said, “We have 6 to 10 people staffing our phone banks every night. It’s not difficult to get volunteers, even though a lot of them work 8 to 5, then come in here and work 5 to 8. Everyone knows it’s important.”

Also important is preparing to vote: getting information about the issues and candidates, and registering (which is quick and easy online via turbovote.org).

After a voter registration event last month, Illinois NAACP leader Don Jackson said, “It can be a real challenge. The process is slow, but we’ll keep going.”

Technology helps such activities. Social media and email as well as radio spots and outreach all can offer details on polling places, early voting and especially absentee voting, which can be done for any reason.

Besides fighting indifference in off-year elections, civic activists are battling a concerted attempt to make voting more difficult. On Nov. 4, almost half of America’s voters will face voting restrictions not in place in 2010, according to the AFL-CIO.

Poll taxes and literacy tests are history, but many people are worried about voter suppression – attempted by means of new limits justified by right-wing interests as answering “voter fraud” – a false premise. (Voter fraud is so rare as to be nonexistent, according to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice and even the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which said, “The evidence of significant voter fraud is zero.”)

Bill Knight

As far as the influence of money, the Corporate Reform Coalition will continue its long-range work to shed light on campaign contributions despite setbacks.

A majority of the U.S. Senate in September voted for a Constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to set rules on campaign fund raising and spending to help prevent the rich and powerful from buying elections.

However, 42 Republicans voted against the measure, able to “filibuster this measure and instead choose to support a broken system that prioritizes corporations and billionaires over regular voters,” commented U.S. Sen. Morris Udall (D-N.M.), who sponsored the bill. Still, “today was a historic day for campaign finance reform, with more than half of the Senate voting on a constitutional amendment to make it clear that the American people have the right to regulate campaign finance.”

Without grassroots Get Out The Vote and registration drives, Mark Karlin of Buzzflash wrote, “What we end up with is a spectacle of faux-democracy in which voters are marionettes. Their strings are pulled by ads, corporate media and propaganda financed by corporations and 1%-ers, [and] voters do not get a crumb of information on which corporations are manipulating them.”

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.