At a press conference July 27, 2010, the nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens’ lobbying group Common Cause called on corporations and unions in the state of Minnesota to pledge not to make political campaign contributions. Since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 2010 ruling was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the portion of the McCain-Feingold Act which prohibited corporations and unions from making political contributions was struck down.1 Accordingly, corporations and unions may now make unlimited financial contributions from their treasury funds to political groups, although not directly to candidates – yet.2
Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota, said the Citizens United decision has had a corrupting influence on politicians and represents a rejection of the common sense of American people who have fought against electioneering. Citing a study completed by the Carlson School of Management, Dean said that companies who make political contributions have worse corporate governance than those who do not, and that when managers use corporate funds to influence political campaigns they advance and improve political careers – not corporate values. He urged companies not to walk away from the philosophy of corporate responsibility in order to “make a quick buck.” Until now, Minnesota has avoided the kind of corruption seen in states like California, and Minnesota can’t afford the kind of corporate governance that would drown out the middle class.
In addition to pledging not to fund politicians and campaigns, Dean suggested corporations and unions contribute to the unfunded Political Contribution Refund program in Minnesota which was a highly successful program enabling ordinary citizens to affect campaigns. Largely due to Minnesota’s PCR program, 45% of campaigns have been typically funded by small contributions (as opposed to large donations from special interest groups) compared to a nationwide average of just 9%. (The PCR program was recently eliminated under the leadership of Gov. Pawlenty.3)
During a brief Q&A period, Dean was asked if Common Cause would take further action if his call to corporations and unions was ignored. Dean said, “We want to make sure shareholders, customers and the public know [what’s] happening and will,” and urged companies to sign the pledge. Seven Minnesota companies have reportedly already made large donations, but there are 93 more that can still pledge.
When asked whether he had evidence of ramifications to companies who have already made donations, Dean responded he was unaware of any full-fledged boycotts, but cautioned that companies who violate the concept of social responsibility in Minnesota suffer damage to their reputations. With regard to legislative action, Dean said that Common Cause wants to improve the PCR program, to move away from the corporate- and union-funded system and toward a low-dollar public system. He also mentioned wanting to close a loophole whereby ill-defined organizations – or those with misleading names such as the “Organization for Marriage” – are allowed to produce and/or fund television commercials, etc., without disclosing who they are.
Dean was asked if he would be making similar appeals to candidates to which he replied, “Yes, that’s a separate issue.”
This press conference comes in the wake of a contribution made by Target Corp. to teaparty gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer through a conservative group calling itself “MN Forward.” The group has funneled over $1 million this year to candidates from various companies including Pentair Inc., Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., Davisco Foods International, Polaris Industries Inc. and Best Buy Inc.4 Coincidentally, MN Forward is run by Gov. Pawlenty’s former press secretary, Brian McClung. As Pawlenty is expected to announce his bid for the 2012 presidency within a few months and is already seeking donations to his own PAC, the relationship between McClung and Pawlenty – and the PACs – may well come under scrutiny in the months leading up to the 2012 election. Corporate executives and union officials need to accept this as they consider the call for corporate responsibility.
Watch the press conference at TheUptake.