What can $100 million buy a fella these days? Trick question, of course, because $100 million can buy a whole heck of a lot. However, it can’t buy a Republican presidential nomination. Despite recent developments, the religious shareholder investors over at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility continue their crusade to force the companies in which they invest to disclose publicly their donations to political causes and candidates.
ICCR’s fears are unfounded. If you don’t believe your writer, just ask Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor amassed an extraordinary campaign war chest reported at $100 million – but to no avail. His campaign never gained any traction this primary season despite receiving and spending millions of dollars, including $70 million on broadcast advertising spent by his Right to Rise super PAC, according to the New York Times. The Washington Post claims Right to Rise spent $87 million on advertising.
After two dismal primary and one caucus finishes, Mr. Bush pulled the plug on his campaign.
The Center for Competitive Politics President David Keating summed it up neatly after Saturday’s primary results:
“Money can’t buy love, or votes…. Has there ever been a better example than Jeb Bush of the fact that voters decide the outcome of elections, not money? From Blair Hull and John Corzine to Linda McMahon and Meg Whitman, Jeb Bush joins the litany of failed candidates with big campaign warchests who ultimately lost or dropped out. While money is critical for getting a message out, it can’t convince people to cast a vote, make Americans like a candidate, or fix systemic issues within a campaign.”
If money buys votes, then Mr. Bush spent approximately $2,600 per vote to garner a sixth-place finish in Iowa and a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire. This, as any businessperson will tell you, is a pretty lousy ROI or return on investment. His fourth-place finish in South Carolina only adds to the narrative that money can’t buy elections.
Yet, once again ICCR performs mental gymnastics to hamper companies seeking to exercise free speech by engaging in the political process. From ICCR’s 2016 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide:
Investors asked 18 companies, including Google/Alphabet, Marathon Petroleum, Spectra Energy and Wyndham Worldwide to publicly disclose their policies and procedures for making, with corporate funds or assets, contributions and expenditures (direct or indirect) to (a) participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, or (b) influence the general public, or any segment thereof, with respect to an election or referendum, as well as their monetary and nonmonetary contributions and expenditures (direct and indirect). [page 168]
And this: “ICCR members filed 18 resolutions calling for lobbying expenditures disclosure, emphasizing anti-climate lobbying. Recipients include American Express, Bank of America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Google/Alphabet, IBM, Time Warner Cable and Walmart.” [page 167]
As noted above, money doesn’t necessarily translate into political victory. Nor does it guarantee public-policy outcomes in donors’ favors. What money does provide is an option for companies seeking to exercise free speech in the public sector in an effort to counteract increasing government intervention into all aspects of private business. On its own, however, money is but one blunt instrument exercised with dubious effectiveness.