Ted Wheeler calls for reforming corporate disclosure of political donations

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Yesterday, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler called on the Obama Administration to create new rules that would require corporations to disclose to their shareholders what political donations they make - including to the new largely-anonymous super-PACs.

After the Citizens United ruling opened the flood gates, we've seen a lot of corporate money flowing into these super-PACs; and yet, the very people who own those corporations - their shareholders - are being kept in the dark about where funds are going.

Those shareholders include the State of Oregon, through its investments of retirement funds, school funds, and more.

It certainly seems odd that the taxpayers of Oregon, through their investments, would be funding political campaigns. Disclosure is a critical first step that would allow shareholders to determine whether and if they should be pursuing changes in corporate governance to end some or all political donations made in their name, and with their money.

Wheeler was joined by Janet Cowell, the state treasurer of North Carolina, as well as U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) - as well as the Corporate Reform Coalition, which represents investors with $800 billion in holdings.

From the Statesman-Journal's Raju Chebium:

"Companies have the ability to spend heavily on political causes and they have the right to do so," Wheeler said. "However, corporations also have the ability to obscure that spending from shareholders, such as Oregon beneficiaries of trust funds... That's wrong."

Of course, critics of this proposal have gone to the old trope of "gee, why not get more disclosure from labor unions?" Wheeler addressed that question in a post on Facebook:

The short answer is this: 1) Labor unions already have significantly higher disclosure requirements than corporations (post Citizens United); 2) we invest in corporations as shareholders, and are part owners and have a right to know - we do not invest in labor unions; 3) that said, we support more, rather than less, information on who is influencing American elections - to what degree - and where they come from.

I am, for one, glad to see Ted Wheeler taking on an activist role representing the interests of Oregonians in addition to strong investment returns.

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    Other big differences between labor union spending and for profit political corporate spending is that a labor union is compromised of a group of people who are formed for the express purpose of exerting influence to better their economic situation. While I "join" a corporation that is for profit to make a profit. Purely economic, not political, reasons.

    And, in a union it really is much more democratic as far as leadership and local control. There is no real democracy in a publicly for profit corporation. At least not unless you are a corporate raider. So really, the management has free hand in supporting whatever politician they want, for whatever reasons they want. And your only real recourse is to sell your shares. Which will then incur a cost to you.

    Since corporations are creatures of state statute, Oregon can take a small step by passing a law that requires Oregon corporations to hold shareholder votes on every political contribution. I don't know if you could require foreign corporations to do that because of the commerce clause, though maybe you could do it for any Oregon political expenditure.

    There are statutory remedies for some of this. Disclosure is one. Requiring shareholder pre approval is another.

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      Given the fact that employees in union shops may not opt out of dues, and usually must join the union to keep the job, your description might be a bit incomplete as it relates to politics. Not arguing that this is itself a bad thing, just that it adds datapoints to this conversation regarding disclosure. Also, it's a lot easier to make the argument for corporate disclosure if you include all group donors of any kind.

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    I don't know the position as far as union requirements to disclose to their members, but that would be the partly analogous relationship to stockholders. Members pay dues.

    This is good from Ted Wheeler but a half-measure. It doesn't go far enough in recognizing the public interest in rapid disclosure of corrupting money in politics. Not just disclosure, but rapid disclosure.

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    The best thing about this is Wheeler acting as a tribune of the people.

    Because our political system is so corrupted, the people need our elected officials who may be able to get the ear of people in Washington more than ordinary citizens, to speak up for us. We should use willingness to do that as one criterion in evaluating state and local candidates.

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    We should support the same kind of full reporting by labor unions that we are asking by corporations. I believe we already have that kind of reporting. but if not, that could certainly be part of the request. Union members know or can easily find out the political donations and activities of their unions. Wheeler should ask the legislature pass a bill to require the reporting he has suggested.

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