Obama Must Push SEC On Political Disclosure To End “Legacy Of Inaction” Against Money In Politics by Rootstrikers
White House Obligated to Respond to Criticisms After 100,000 Sign ‘We The People’ Petition Demanding Immediate Executive Action
Washington, DC — Today, anti-corruption group Rootstrikers released a report blasting President Obama’s “legacy of inaction” against secret money in politics.
The report calls on President Obama to publicly urge SEC Chair Mary Jo White to use the SEC’s existing authority to require political spending disclosure by public companies, one of several avenues of executive authority to reduce secret political spending.
Nearly six years after Citizens United was decided, President Obama has still done nothing to combat the skyrocketing amounts of secret money in elections – despite having tools at his disposal and being famously outspoken against the decision.
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The 34-page report, titled “A Legacy of Inaction: President Obama and Secret Money in Politics” contrasts President Obama’s rhetorical pledges of a “consistent” commitment to use his political capital to fight money in politics with the president’s complete failure to take actions that would reduce secret money in politics.
“President Obama has no one to blame but himself for his failing legacy on money in politics,” said Kurt Walters, campaign manager at Rootstrikers. “It’s cynical even by Washington standards – Obama has said for six years that he’s outraged at Citizens United but hasn’t bothered to do anything to combat the decision’s effects. We need action, not empty rhetoric.”
The report focuses on the Obama Administration’s failures to take executive action to reduce secret money in politics, which would not require action by Congress or the Supreme Court. The report calls these failures a “stain” on Obama’s legacy “adding to the culture of political cynicism he has repeatedly decried.” They include:
- Backing away from an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their spending,
- Refusal by his appointees at the SEC, IRS, and FCC to use their authority to unmask secret donors, and
- Neglect of the dysfunctional FEC, where five out of six commissioners sit on expired terms because President Obama has not made new nominations.
More than 100,000 people have signed the petition at PresidentObamasLegacy.org, organized by Rootstrikers and a coalition of 19 organizations. Because of its integration with the White House’s ‘We The People’ API, the Obama Administration is now obligated to publicly respond within 60 days to the demands for immediate executive action.
The report mirrors the call at PresidentObamasLegacy.org that President Obama can and should take immediate executive action to redeem his money-in-politics legacy. Before his next State of the Union address, the president should:
- Issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending within 24 hours of it happening, to take effect before July 4, 2016.
- Immediately call on the leaders he appointed to the SEC, IRS, and FCC to use their authority to unmask secret political donors.
- Fill all five FEC openings with nominees who will enforce the law.
According to a September poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, 88% of both Republicans and Democrats support a political disclosure rule by the SEC, adding to the call by a record-setting number of investors (more than 1.2 million public comments) for the rule. Each of the three leading Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to advance the SEC political spending disclosure rule if elected.
Obama Must Push SEC On Political Disclosure To End “Legacy Of Inaction” Against Money In Politics – Introduction
Nearly six years ago, the United States Supreme Court ushered in an era of unprecedented anonymous and unlimited political spending with its Citizens United decision.
That decision and related Supreme Court jurisprudence has led to a proliferation of outside groups such as super PACs and “secret money” or “dark money” groups – organizations spending with the intent of influencing elections without having to disclose their donors. In the wake of Citizens United, the amount of political spending by dark money groups soared from only $5.6m in 2006 to over $300m in the 2012 presidential election cycle. The 2014 elections’ $174 million in secret spending set a new record for midterm elections and for secret money spent on congressional races.1 The 2016 election cycle looks poised to go further: At this point in time, 10 times more “dark money” has been spent in the 2016 presidential election cycle than at the same point four years ago.
The American public’s outrage over the decision is palpable, with nearly four out of every five Americans saying the case should be overturned. They are joined by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who calls it one of the Court’s worst rulings, saying, “If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United.”
At first glance, President Obama appears to be among the strongest critics of the Citizens United decision and its effects. He famously broke decorum to criticize the Court’s decision while six justices sat before him at the first State of the Union address following Citizens United. Repeatedly, he has drawn from the rhetorical well of decrying the harm he says the decision has done to our political system, stating “ordinary Americans are shut out of the process” in a system with “millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.”
Yet, President Obama’s record has not lived up to his rhetoric.
As this report will detail, the president has numerous avenues to take executive action to fight the impact of secret money in politics, without needing the approval of Congress. With little more than one year left in his term, he has taken none of them.
While Obama has genuflected to the importance of overturning Citizens United, the presidency has no authority in the (daunting) amendment process. In contrast, as the consistently failed to take the actions against unlimited and secret money in politics over which the executive branch has substantial or even unilateral control:
- Executive Order – President Obama has backed away from issuing an executive order requiring large federal contractors – including 70% of the Fortune 100 – to disclose their political spending. His continued inaction comes in the face of increasing public pressure, with more than 850,000 petition signatures from the public delivered in 2015 and support from more than 130 members of his own party in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
- SEC – Obama’s appointee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, removed a rule to require public companies to disclose their political spending from the regulatory agenda, despite it being the most requested rule by investors in SEC history. In response, 44 U.S. Senators wrote Chair White a letter expressing their “frustration and disappointment” with her action.
- FCC – Tom Wheeler, Obama’s Federal Communications Commission chair, has declared that it is “not a priority” to use the Commission’s already existing authority to require greater disclosure of the funders of political ads.
- IRS – The IRS commissioner Obama appointed, John Koskinen, has repeatedly delayed issuing rules clarifying the political activity taxexempt nonprofits can undertake. 501(c)4 organizations have become leading vehicles for secret money spending despite being required to be operated “exclusively” to promote social welfare. But cowed by right wing pressure, Koskinen has said his commission will not act until after the 2016 election.
- FEC – President Obama has neglected the primary regulatory agency for campaigns, the Federal Election Commission, by failing to appoint commissioners when sitting commissioners’ terms expire. Seven years into his term, the president has appointed only two of the six sitting commissioners, despite five of the six commissioners serving on expired terms.
- Broken Pledges on Campaign Finance – The president has walked back many of his previously stated positions on campaign finance, failing to push for public financing of elections after campaigning on the idea, violating his pledge to not have his associates fundraise for any super PAC supporting his 2012 bid, and allowing corporate contributions for his second inauguration festivities after disallowing them in his first inauguration.
- Signed Bills Increasing Big Money in Politics – In the few cases where the president has taken direct action on money in politics, his actions have largely worsened an already damaged system, including signing into law a six-fold increase in the contribution limits governing how much money donors can contribute to political parties in the 2014 “CRomnibus” bill and legislation repealing public financing for political party conventions.
- Evaded Questions from Press – When pushed by reporters on whether the president would take executive action to fight secret money in politics, Obama’s staff has evaded the question, merely pointing back toward a document of statements criticizing the Supreme Court. The president’s administration acknowledges no concrete plans to combat secret money in advance of the 2016 election.
See full PDF below.