In the Nation's Interest

New Business Poll Shows Discontent with Undisclosed Campaign Expenditures Following Citizens United

October 28, 2010

Washington, D.C. October 28, 2010 – American business leaders are concerned about the pressure on business to donate to political campaigns, and the influx of large, undisclosed donations to third party political organizations that are not required to disclose their sources of funding. The findings are part of a new poll conducted by Zogby International and commissioned by the business-led Committee for Economic Development (CED). Six in ten of the 301 business leaders surveyed say there is pressure to contribute to political efforts.

Seventy-seven percent believe that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures, including money provided to third party organizations to be spent on campaign ads. The poll also found that ninety-three percent of business leaders believe that corporate boards should be informed of the beneficiaries and purposes of the company’s direct and indirect political spending. Two-thirds polled agreed with the statement: “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”

In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that political spending is a form of protected speech and opened the door to unlimited – and undisclosed – spending by third party organizations on campaign advertisements.

“This poll underscores what business people across America already know: the political system is broken and large amounts of money are flooding the system and corrupting the democratic process. These huge undisclosed contributions that pay for campaign ads are distorting the political process and are a major reason why Congress has become so dysfunctional,” said Ed Kangas, a CED Trustee and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

Other key findings of the CED poll:

  • Three out of five report that they are familiar with the Citizens United case, and based on what they know, half disagree with the decision.
  • More than two-fifths describe the amount of money being solicited from American business leaders and their corporate treasuries to give to third party groups as high, but not excessive or moderate. However, three in ten describe such amounts as excessive.
  • About half feel the level of pressure being placed on American business leaders to make political contributions has increased since the last presidential election in 2008, however, two out of five feel such pressure placed on business leaders to make political contributions has stayed about the same since 2008.
  • About half think business leaders are not concerned about their contributions being used to fund negative political advertisements, while another half think business leaders are concerned about their contributions being used in such a manner.

“The 2010 election will be the most expensive mid-term election in American history. Business leaders are under constant pressure to make large donations to groups that do not have to disclose the source of their contributions. This is not how an open democracy should operate. CED will continue to push for campaign finance reforms that ensure transparency and real oversight. The role of individual small donors must also be protected, so that we don’t end up with a system dominated by a few large donors,” said Landon Rowland, a CED Trustee and Chairman of Ever Glades Financial.

Read the poll results.