Today the Senate scored two substantial victories for policies that promote the public interest over corporate interest during the Senate budget deliberations this afternoon, and I wanted to take a moment to let you know about these successes.
Responding to Citizens United – Corporate Political Expenditure Disclosure
First, the Senate adopted an amendment I filed that would subject corporate sponsored political advertising to the same disclosure laws that apply to other political spending, and require CEOs to “stand-by-their-ads” by appearing in their ads to say they “approve this message.”
This amendment, which I wrote with Secretary of State Bill Galvin, was proposed as an initial response to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizen’s United case, which gave corporations a constitutional right to unlimited campaign spending and electioneering communications.
I’m currently working with Common Cause, MassPIRG, MassVOTE, and some of my colleagues in the Legislature to craft a more robust and comprehensive response to the Citizens’ United decision, which we intend to file in the coming weeks.
But today’s amendment is a good first step towards a more comprehensive solution — because at a minimum, we should all be able to agree that corporations spending money in political elections should have to disclose those expenditures to the public. When someone stands up to speak at town meeting, the first thing they say is their name and where they’re from. Corporations seeking to influence an election should at least be held to the same standard.
Corporate Tax Credit Transparency
The Senate today also passed an amendment to the budget that would bring more transparency to our tax credit programs, requiring public disclosure of the results of refundable or transferable tax credit programs, including the identity of the corporation receiving the credit.
This is an issue I’ve been working very hard on this session. It’s an important amendment, one that will promote greater accountability at a time when we need to be examining where every single public dollar is going, and what impact it is having.
The final amendment the Senate adopted was not perfect, and there were some changes made to the language that I would have preferred were not adopted. The legislation will require companies to report on the results of the tax credit program, including the number of jobs created – which is a very important piece. Unfortunately, those job figures will be reported in aggregate for each tax credit program, rather than by each individual tax credit rewarded.
I do believe that this change will make it more difficult for the public – and the Legislature – to analyze the effectiveness of each tax credit program. Aggregating the data makes it difficult to see if there are individual companies taking a tax credit which are not creating jobs, which I believe would be valuable information to have in evaluating the overall effectiveness of a program. I also believe that it is, in the end, the public’s money these corporations are receiving – and therefore the public should have the right to see what they are getting for their money.
We will live to fight another day on this front. Ultimately, I supported this compromise amendment because it is still a giant leap forward in providing greater transparency of the spending of public dollars. I applaud my colleagues in the Senate for unanimously supporting this legislation, and look forward to seeing the amendment passed in the final budget. (As Rep. Sciortino recently blogged the House also passed a tax credit transparency provision in their budget.)
Together, these two amendments make a strong statement that the interest of the greater public – in transparency, in accountability of the spending of public dollars, in the disclosure of who is spending money to influence public elections – should take precedence over the interests of big corporations. Those looking to take public benefits – in the form of refundable tax credits – should at the very least have to account for what they are doing with those benefits, and those looking to influence our elections should at the very least have to disclose that they are doing so.