Using a Bit of Sunlight to Rein in Corporate Activism

Paul Waldman makes a point about the value of exposing corporate activism:

You may have heard that in response to a campaign by the progressive group Color of Change, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and now Kraft Foods have all withdrawn their support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the group that pushes conservative laws at the state level….Coca-Cola’s explanation was that “Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business.”

I somehow doubt that the initial decisions to join were made at the highest level….It was probably some vice-president for policy who decided he was being clever by spreading the corporation’s money around to groups who would make sure that the high-fructose corn syrup could continue to flow down the gullets of every true American without the impediment of a nickel of extra taxes. But if you want to play in the arena of public policy, you’re going to be subject to scrutiny. And it didn’t take a boycott or protests outside the corporate offices. All it took was for Color of Change to point out to everyone that these corporations were supporting ALEC, and they went scurrying. There might be a lesson there.

This, of course, is why dark money is so important to modern political campaigns. Most big companies don’t want to get a reputation for political activism. They have Democratic customers and Republican customers, and taking sides is almost always a negative sum game. If their money is publicly donated, and it’s donated to a group with a clear and wide-ranging political agenda, it’s going to get them trouble.

Transparency would hardly solve all the problems caused by our modern-day conservative-industrial complex. But it would help. We have to start constricting the fire hose somehow.