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National Groups and Investors Urge Maryland Legislature to Support Shareholders United Bill

Statement by Emily Scarr
For Immediate Release

"Today, Maryland PIRG’s federal office, U.S. PIRG, joined a diverse group of twenty national advocacy organizations and investors calling on the Maryland General Assembly to support of the Shareholders United bill.

"The bill [SB179/HB885], introduced by Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Platt, would require Maryland corporations to get majority approval from shareholders, proportionate to shares owned, before spending in any federal, state or local elections. More importantly, if the owners of the majority of shares cannot vote on a political action, this bill forbids the corporation from making the campaign contribution or independent expenditure. Finally, all Maryland corporations would be required to publicly post all political contributions on their website.

"It has been five years since the Supreme Court ruled in the infamous Citizens United v FEC that opened the floodgates for corporate money in politics. This decision was predicated on the fact that shareholders would be able to have a say in the money being spent through the “procedures of corporate democracy.” Half a decade later, there have been no new systems of corporate governance set up on a large scale to deal with this new political reality.

"In fact there is more dark money being funneled into elections than ever before. It is time that shareholders, the people whose money is being spent for political purposes, are informed about the spending and have a say in how their money is being used.

"We are proud to support the Shareholders United bill that would create this system of accountability."

Below is the letter and signers:

Dear Elected Official,

We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you to support a bill that would require Maryland corporations to get majority approval from shareholders, proportionate to shares owned, before spending in any federal, state or local elections, and require corporations to publicly post all political contributions on their website. Furthermore, if the owners of the majority of shares cannot vote on a political action, this bill forbids the corporation from making the campaign contribution or independent expenditure. 

When the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United they opened the floodgates to an unprecedented amount of corporate spending. This money often enters our election as dark money without transparency or accountability. Many corporations choose to give to sham non-profits that operate without public disclosure of their donors. This means that the public including the corporate shareholders, have no way of knowing how the corporate money is being used in politics. Spending in secret has become the norm. While all outside spending is up, the most significant increase is from groups that do not disclose some or all of their donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, dark money spending increased to at least $219 million in the 2014 cycle, up from $160.8 million in 2010.

Currently there is no process in place to ensure that shareholders, the people whose money is being spent for political purposes, are informed about the spending and have a say in how their money is being used. Secret expenditures by corporations, which keep their investors in the dark, are harmful to both our market and democracy.  This legislation would shine a light on corporate spending.

Responsible corporate governance requiring the participation of informed shareholders is not a partisan issue. A Bannon Communications poll, commissioned by the Corporate Reform Coalition showed eight out of 10 Americans (80%) agree that corporations should only spend money on political campaigns if they get approval from their shareholders first, which would be an important step towards allowing investors to control the political activities of the companies they own. Support for that proposition was at 78 percent among Republicans surveyed, and did not fall below 76 percent among all political subgroups.

More broadly, the poll showed that Americans of all political backgrounds agree: there is way too much corporate money in politics. Nine in 10 Americans (89%) agree with that statement, and 51% strongly agree. More than 80% of every ideological and partisan subgroup expressed agreement that there is way too much corporate money in politics, and that we need solutions.

These undersigned groups represent the diverse range of support, spanning from investors and the small business sector to environmental groups, calling for this reform. We urge you take this opportunity to make your state a national leader on this issue, taking huge steps to make sure Maryland corporations are held accountable to their shareholders before they spend in elections.

Sincerely,

Alliance for a Just Society
Citizen Works
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Common Cause
The Communications Workers of America/ CWA Maryland State Council
Free Speech for People
Green Century Capital Management, Inc.
Greenpeace US
Harrington Investments, Inc.
Issue One
Main Street Alliance
Money Out Voters In
New Progressive Alliance
PAX World Mutual Funds
People for the American Way
Public Citizen
Sierra Club
The Sunlight Foundation
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
Zevin Asset Management, LLC

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