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The Case for Requiring Federal Contractors to Disclose Their Secret Political Contributions

May 26, 2022

For more than 80 years, those negotiating or performing federal contracts have been prohibited from contributing to federal candidates or parties and from giving to other entities for political purposes.The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission made the contractor contribution ban relevant again. The decision permitted corporations to spend money to influence elections -- in unlimited sums -- as long they did not coordinate with federal candidates or parties.Although many expected that the decision would spawn political expenditures directly by corporations, most of the new political spending resulting from it has been by third-party entities, such as super PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups.Contributions to super PACs must be publicly disclosed. But 501(c) groups are not required to disclose their donors. This gap in disclosure requirements has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in "dark money" political spending.The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has generally interpreted the contractor contribution ban as applying to gifts to super PACs, and it has taken several enforcement actions against contractors for giving to super PACs. But the FEC has not deemed the contribution ban to apply to gifts to politically active 501(c) groups. This is arguably inconsistent because some 501(c) groups spend money to influence elections in the same manner as super PACs. Further, some 501(c) groups even transfer their money directly to super PACs that they work in concert with.The public has a particularly profound interest in learning of cases in which businesses seeking taxpayer funds are spending money to influence their votes. A requirement that federal contractors disclose their electioneering efforts would help shine a light on these companies' payments to shape the playing field on which they play and, in the process, might flush out bad actors seeking refuge in the shadows.

Capitol Coin: Number of Cryptocurrency Lobbyists Nearly Tripled Since 2018 and Spending Quadrupled, With Help from Revolving Door Lobbyists and Corporate Allies

March 8, 2022

Cryptocurrency speculation mania has seized a subset of Americans and a small army of crypto lobbyists has descended on Congress. Among the crypto proponents pushing the industry's interests in Washington, D.C. are scores of revolving door lobbyists and officials, including the former heads of multiple financial regulation agencies under former president Donald Trump. Recent disclosures offer an eye-opening look at this volatile industry's rapidly escalating lobbying presence.

Dual Agents: Political Consulting Firms Working Jointly for Candidates or Political Parties and for Unregulated Outside Groups in the Same Elections Received $1.4 Billion in 2018 and 2020

December 15, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission made it legal for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums from their treasuries to influence elections. Follow-up rulings by a federal court and the Federal Election Commission permitted third-party groups to accept unlimited contributions to pay for electioneering expenditures.The five justices who signed the Citizens United ruling based their decision on a view that political spending by outside entities does not pose a sufficient risk of causing corruption to warrant being restricted. Events soon showed that the court's confidence was misplaced.Shortly after the decision, third-party electioneering entities began springing up. These came to be known as "super PACs." In the 2012 elections (the first full two-year election cycle after the Citizens United decision), Public Citizen found that 52 percent of 143 super PACs active in the election devoted all of their money to assisting a single candidate. This evidence suggested that many super PACs were not truly independent of the candidates whose contests they sought to influence.Meanwhile, other super PACs were created with stated goals of electing Democratic or Republican majorities to the U.S. House and Senate. Federal law deems expenditures made by an outside entity in "cooperation, consultation, or concert" with a national party to be coordinated. A coordinated expenditure would violate the law if it exceeded contribution limits, which super PACs' expenditures usually do.These and other developments demonstrated that the Supreme Court was misguided in its assumption that outside entities would be independent of regulated campaign committees. In reality, the court had created a major incentive for candidates and party leaders to use outside entities to circumvent campaign contribution limits.

The Corporate Sponsors of Voter Suppression

April 5, 2021

Corporate America was quick to demonstrate its disapproval of members of Congress who supported Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election and disenfranchise millions of voters. At least 123 corporations and corporate trade associations altered their political giving policies after the January 6 Capitol riot, such as by suspending giving to the 147 members of Congress who voted to block the certification of presidential electors or pausing campaign contributions to all federal candidates.Which is why it's noteworthy that so many businesses and business associations backed the mostly Republican state lawmakers who are now pushing about 250 bills that would make voting in the next election more difficult – and which would disproportionately disenfranchise Black Americans and other groups of voters who typically support Democratic candidates.This report looks at the corporations and trade associations supporting state legislators who are proposing and backing these bills and analyzes three main datasets: Voter suppression bills, voter suppression bill supporters, and state level corporate contribution data.

The Cost Is Too High: How Susan Dudley Threatens Public Protections

September 1, 2006

Susan Dudley is an anti-regulatory extremist who is now poised to take control over regulatory policy as the new Bush administration regulatory czar. This investigative report by Public Citizen and OMB Watch reviews Dudley's positions and demonstrates the grave threat she poses to public protections of the public health, safety, civil rights, environment, and other public needs.