Acton Institute Powerblog

ICCR’s Political Spending Hypocrisy

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Now that the midterms and 2014 shareholder proxy resolution thankfully are in our rearview mirror, we can pick through the claims of the progressive religious groups such as those affiliated with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Some of the charges hurled against donations by the libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch serve only to deflect similar charges that progressive political action committees, candidates and causes are receiving storage lockers full of mad stacks of beaucoup bucks (author’s redundancy intentional).

In short, ICCR and its posse’s protests against the brothers Koch amount to nothing more than hypocrisy. Progressive PACs receive remarkably more bank than their conservative counterparts. Yet, ICCR boasted like a cackling Dr. Evil complete with pinky pressed to mouth’s corner in early September it had amassed 1 million comments for submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission:

In a record-breaking demonstration of support, over one million commenters have submitted comments to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling on the agency to take immediate steps to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their use of corporate resources for political purposes to their shareholders….

Laura Berry, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility said “It is no surprise that over one million comments have been received demanding greater transparency on corporate political spending. As investors, this information is crucial to understand corporate strategies that impact the future value of our investments. As citizens, we must fully understand how our government is influenced by corporate interests. Understanding where and how corporate dollars flow is the most straightforward approach.” …

“We need to get all corporate money out of politics, period,” said Becky Bond, CREDO Mobile’s vice president. “But until that happens, the SEC can at the very least make corporate CEOs disclose to their shareholders and the public how much money they are spending out of company coffers in order to influence the outcome of our elections.”

According to Wikipedia, CREDO flaunts its progressivism. The San Francisco-based organization, formerly known as Working Assets, raises mountains of cash for liberal causes:

Working Assets was established in 1985 in San Francisco as a business that would use its revenues to fund progressive social change work. Working Assets was founded to give people an easy way to make a difference in the world just by doing things they do every day. Each time their members use one of its services—mobile, long distance or credit card—they automatically send a donation to progressive nonprofit groups. To date they’ve raised more than $76 million for groups like Planned Parenthood, Rainforest Action Network and Oxfam America.

If CREDO’s $75 million gets a pass from ICCR, you can bet your bottom dollar there’s a plethora of left-of-center groups who elicit none of the usual dark money self-righteousness from Ms. Berry and her ICCR corporate godflies. Instead, they hunting for heads in the corporate jungle while ignoring the contributions to political causes by such unions as the National Education Association. As noted in the Washington Free Beacon yesterday:

Seven labor unions have given more money to super PACs than the Koch Brothers.

The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, has spent more than $22 million on super PACs in the midterm elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The NEA trails only radical environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer in terms of super PAC donations, according to the Huffington Post.

The NEA’s “dark money” spending is also five times higher than that of liberal bêtes noire, the Koch brothers. The NEA isn’t alone; the AFL-CIO, Carpenters & Joiners Union, AFSCME, Steelworkers, Laborers, and the American Federation of Teachers have all topped the Koch Brothers’ super PAC spending. Nearly all of that money was spent on behalf of Democrats.

Labor unions represented just 11 percent of the nation’s workforce in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 20 percent in 1980. However, unions accounted for 17 percent of all outside spending, according to Center for Responsive Politics, which draws data from the Federal Election Commission.

And this:

Four of the top 15 industry donors of the cycle are affiliated with unions. Those groups—public sector unions, building trade unions, miscellaneous unions, and industrial unions—accounted for $76 million in outside spending alone. Less than 2 percent of that money went to Republicans.

Unions have numerous legal ways of obscuring their political spending from the public view.

The donations documented on Open Secrets only represent a fraction of union spending. Unions do not have to report much of the electioneering that leaders and members do for the benefit of Democrats, according to Patrick Semmens, spokesman at the National Right to Work Committee….

Filings with the Department of Labor give a more accurate measure of union influence on elections. Those federal records document how much unions spent on “political activities and lobbying” at the state, local, and federal level. They also cover a broad spectrum of activities related to politics, rather than the narrow FEC requirements pertaining to campaign contributions and outside spending.

“Include disbursements for communications with members (or agency fee paying nonmembers) and their families for registration, get-out-the- vote and voter education campaigns, the expenses of establishing, administering and soliciting contributions to union segregated political funds (or PACs), disbursements to political organizations as defined by the IRS in 26 U.S.C. 527, and other political disbursements,” the Labor Department’s disclosure guidelines say….

The American Federation of Teachers reported $25 million in total “political activities and lobbying” between July 2013 and June, 30 2014, according to its most recent Labor Department disclosures. AFT President Randi Weingarten pledged to spend $20 million on the midterm elections. However, the union has only reported about $10.5 million on politics through October 15, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, suggesting that millions will be spent outside the bounds of the FEC….

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research calculated that unions spent $1.7 billion during 2012 election cycle and $1.3 billion during the 2010 midterm—spending that dwarfed the numbers one would attain from the FEC.

No word yet from ICCR and its member groups on how they’ll engage unions on the subject of dark money and political contributions – after all, if money spent by corporations on politics is such a nefarious endeavor it seems the outrage would spread to expenditures made by organized public-employee labor groups. I’m not holding my breath.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

Comments

  • The SEC petition submitted mostly by professors that ICCR supports applies equally to contributions from the left and from the right. Learn how to join them at http://corpgov.net/2014/09/fields-track-support-sec-petition-political-spending/

    In Citizens United v. FEC the US Supreme Court noted that shareowners could “determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits” and could discipline directors and executives who use corporate resources inconsistently with shareowner interests.

    However, unless shareowners can easily access information about a company’s political speech and expenditures we will be unable to know whether such speech “advances the corporation’s interest in making profits” and will be unable to discipline directors and executives. The rulemaking sought by the petitioners would address that issue by giving shareowners the information we need to hold the managers and directors of our companies accountable.

    It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are. All shareowners have a right to know how our corporate resources are being spent so that we can assess if boards are working in our best interest.