February 3, 2013
In 2012, corporations and businesses spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections across America, thanks to new freedoms granted by the Supreme Court. Some businesses went even further, telling their employees directly how to vote.
Given the advantages of this system, you would think most in the business community would support the status quo. But you would be wrong.
Underneath the headlines, many business owners still believe that success should come from hard work, safe and quality products, and good customer service—not spending on elections.
A poll commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council and other business groups found 88 percent of small business leaders view the role money plays in politics negatively and 66 percent consider the Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United decision bad for small business. Their opinion is clear: Unlimited corporate political spending in elections hurts the interests of small businesses, America’s jobs engine.
Another poll commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development found similar views among New York business leaders: 62 percent believe corporate donations are bad for the political process, while 72 percent support creating a public financing system that would match low-dollar contributions and give average citizens more incentive to contribute to campaigns, along the lines of reforms proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Businesses and their owners want to profit and thrive. But most of us also want to build a vibrant and sustainable economy that benefits our communities. An essential principle is that a strong economy requires a strong democracy.
Transparency is another important business value. Decisions should be made in the open. Donations from corporations and the wealthy cannot be thinly veiled bribery that allows legislators to collect secret donations for which they then owe secret favors. “Pay to play” destroys the public’s faith in government.
The problem centers on which deep pockets will dominate the spending, and whether the ideas they will promote are good for our businesses and the state. The resulting policies often benefit those special interests at the expense of small and midsize businesses, our local economies and our communities.
Campaign finance reform is a crucial step toward building a strong and fair economy. This is essential to create the economy we need.
It’s time to put the concerns of responsible business owners, our employees, and our customers back on the table so we can compete, create jobs, and support our local economies by putting our elections back in the hands of the electorate.
That’s why we and many other business leaders support a plan for public financing of our state elections.
David Levine is co-founder and CEO of the New York-based American Sustainable Business Council.