Faint applause for the Committee for Economic Development. As their website says, “CED has been at the forefront of campaign finance reform since 1999.” In other words, they’ve tried to stop businesses from participating in election campaigns: “In this election cycle, we are saying to business people, ‘don’t contribute, but if you do contribute – disclose.’ – Michael Petro, Executive Vice President, CED.”
Unlike some organizations, however, CED is perfectly willing to fund extensive research that demonstrates, without question, that they are wrong about their underlying concern. Twice. First in November 2016, as a heavily-underspending Trump campaign was winning, CED put out an “interim” report demonstrating that fears of businesses overwhelming American democracy were overblown.
Following the landmark Citizens United ruling, corporations have not participated in campaign finance activities to the extent that many expected. In fact, major companies are not making independent expenditures, and very few public companies are contributing to Super PACs.
And on July 10, 2017, CED issued its completed report, which again showed that almost all campaign spending was disclosed, and businesses were less than six percent of spending. Unions, often touted as “acceptable” participants in campaigns relative to businesses, were at the same small percentage. And that “dark money” we’ve heard so much about in recent years, as an existential threat to our democracy? About 2-3% in the last two election cycles.
So-called “Super PACS,” which are permitted to spend and receive unlimited amounts of funds, but must disclose all of it, made 9.6% of all political expenditures. Concerns were expressed that businesses would hide behind Super PACs, but 60 percent of SuperPAC contributions came from individuals, while business corporations provided only six percent of SuperPAC contributions.
As a recent recap from the Center for Competitive Politics suggested: “CED’s findings join a growing body of research that makes the doom and gloom predictions surrounding Citizens United look embarrassingly off the mark. It is increasingly clear that candidates and parties have not been “drowned out” by “outside” speakers; that super PACs amplify the voices of citizens more than corporations; and that “dark money” constitutes a tiny portion of total political spending.”
But … and to (kind of) quote from a recent Game of Thrones episode, “everything before the ‘but’ is BS.” CED has not changed its position on campaign finance “reform,” even after its own reports repeatedly show that the concerns it has heard are unfounded or overblown.
Why? Let’s let CED speak for itself. From the Conclusion of the Executive Summary of the latest CED report: