When Wu-Tang Clan penned the lyrics “cash rules everything around me” in the '90s, it’s fair to believe the prescient rap crew was predicting the totality of American politics in the next century — especially after the Citizens United ruling flooded elections with more corporate cash.
“It’s to a point where effectively we have deregulated money in politics,” says David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor who may or may not be a Wu-Tang fan. “We are just about at the point to where we were back before Watergate, where it’s wide open.”
But we don’t have to be stuck in a Wild West of campaign finance, Schultz says. He recently wrote an essay for Talking Points Memo, offering a four-point plan for corralling — or at least exposing — campaign finance gangsters. It won’t completely stop mega companies from flexing their election muscle. However, Schultz’s reforms could undo damage from Citizens United.
The fundamental problem is that political clout is bought and sold like free market sailboats, Schultz says. That’s right, sailboats.
“If I’ve got a sailboat and I want to sell it, if I say ‘Sailboat for sale, highest bidder’ – God bless America, that’s a great way to sell sailboats,” Schultz waxes. “Political representation, political influence shouldn’t be allocated on the market mechanism and that’s really where we are at this point.”
Better yet, the president and the agencies he puppeteers can take these steps now without the approval of Congress.
First and foremost, Schultz wants an executive order requiring that federal contractors disclose all political donations. Should the palm greasers spend over a certain amount on an election or congressman, they would be prevented from bidding on government contracts for two years.
Second, he wants publicly traded companies to come clean about all their political spending and give shareholders the chance to sign off on it — moves within the Securities and Exchange Commission’s power.
“Right now corporations have more freedom to be able to spend money for political purposes than labor unions,” Schultz says. “At this point individual members of labor unions can opt out and say, ‘I don’t want my money spent for political purposes,’ and I think shareholders should have the same right.”
Lastly, the Federal Communications Commission could force broadcasters to provide “reasonable free air time” to candidates, while the Internal Revenue Service could make political advocacy nonprofits register with the FCC and disclose their donors and expenditures.
So would President Obama and his agency heads actually pull the trigger on these? Despite rumors that the first reform on his list could come, Schultz isn’t holding his breath.
A few years ago, a previous version of Schultz’s plan supposedly trickled up to POTUS’ ears. Sen. Al Franken’s legal counsel was hunting for ways to combat the Citizens United ruling and Schultz gave him his pitch. Schultz was told Franken mentioned them to Obama, but they were greeted with a presidential “meh.”
“I was thrilled to death of course that Senator Franken actually did go talk to the president of the United States about this, but I wasn’t completely surprised about Obama,” Schultz says. “I never heard him when he was running for office talking” seriously about campaign finance reform.
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