What Are Corporations Lying About Today?
Corporations are people, my friend, as John Roberts has previously pointed out. Chief Justice Roberts thinks those corporations' shareholders should be able to demand disclosure of corporations' political expenditures, and he's pretty sure that companies will abide by their shareholders' mandates, because what are you, a communist? So we cannot count how many times John Roberts must have uttered "Oh my stars and garters" with his pretty Harvard mouth after he read this report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:
The report shows companies frequently are failing to disclose what they say they will. [...] In addition to the discrepancies in contribution amounts, CREW found some companies’ contributions to 527 organizations appeared to contradict their stated policies about political giving, published on their websites, in their corporate reports, and in proxy statements.
All of this gets very wonky very quickly, so if you don't know the difference between a 527 and a 501(c)(4), let us Wonksplain at you: COMPANIES PROMISED TO TELL THEIR SHAREHOLDERS IF THEY GAVE ANY MONEY TO POLITICIANS, AND THEN THEY JUST LIED INSTEAD.
"Big deal," you snark, "companies lie all the time!" Ah, correct! Your jaded worldview has won the Internet today, long may you reign. But here's why this matters.
So the Supreme Court made a horrible decision in this one case, McCutcheon v. FEC, did you hear about it? The only good thing about it was Stephen Breyer's dissent, which you should read, because it is awesome. It is awesome because Breyer correctly accuses Roberts and the Court's majority of presuming a world that does not currently exist. To wit, Roberts writes that "With modern technology, disclosure [of campaign donors' identities] now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information."
Marketplace of ideas, y'all! Come git yer pan-fried campaign finance reports, America! Take all you want, but eat all you take! So, John Roberts has a point — a completely academic point that has no relevance to observable reality, but a point nonetheless.
Disclosure could, in theory, act as a counterbalance to, say, multi-million dollar TV ad buys. So how's that disclosey-changey thing workin' out for ya there, John? Why, looky here, it's ProPublica doin' some hardcore disclosing by creating this totally comprehensible graph of the Kochtopus! (The Kochtopus is what whiny librul titty-babbies call the network of conservative groups funded by Charles and David Koch, two plucky billionaires who grabbed their bootstraps and yanked themselves from the pages of an unpublished Ayn Rand novel.)
As you can see in the nationwide conversation about the ProPublica report, "modern technology" has totally "armed the voting public with information." All that disclosin', it's all you hear anyone talking about these days. Here are actual quotations, uttered by real people who do not exist:
- "Did you see that big ProPublica report?" asked the guy hawking chestnuts at the corner of Houston and A in New York City, as a cold breeze from the East River slipped through the holes in his filthy windbreaker.
- "Some Grade-A investigative journalism in that new ProPublica report!" said a server on the second half of her double shift at a truck stop outside Des Moines, the lines around her once-beautiful eyes drooping further as yet another trucker asked to be sat in the section with "the cute waitress."
- "I couldn't believe how clearly they presented this important data, and all with open source tools!" remarked the grounds crew of Alabama's exclusive Shoal Creek Golf Club, before heading out for a pre-dawn shift to sculpt the living Earth in such a way that rich people's tiny dimpled playthings roll just so.
So, the Roberts argument goes, the American people just don't care much about campaign finance disclosure. Them's the breaks! As the old saying says, You can lead a voting horse to disclosure water, but you can't shove its snout in the water and scream "DO YOU SEE WHO'S PAYING FOR YOUR ELECTIONS NOW??"
But in the cases CREW looked at, it's not voter apathy so much as straight-up lying — and CREW only figured out these companies were lying by reverse engineering their disclosure forms:
For example, CREW in 2012 learned insurance giant Aetna had inadvertently disclosed more than $7 million in contributions to political groups, angering shareholders who said the company was failing to abide by its political spending disclosure policy. The mistakenly disclosed contributions included more than $3.3 million to the American Action Network and nearly $4.5 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both nonprofit organizations that spent millions of dollars to influence the 2012 elections.
Uh oh, "insurance giant Aetna" made a boom-boom! And sure, Aetna officially supported Obamacare, while American Action Network and the Chamber fought it with the tenacity of a mother badger being forcibly separated from her still-nursing young, but why should that matter to shareholders, who are literally, actually poorer because of Aetna's undisclosed political expenditures?
Look, it's fine, okay? John Roberts says that the Internet will allow all of us to live in a perfect Panopticon of virtue and rectitude, and how dare something as uncouth as reality contradict him?