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Business Executives Call Political Giving ‘Pay to Play’

Business Executives Say U.S. Political Giving Is ‘Pay to Play’
Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Top U.S. business executives say major political contributors such as themselves wield too much political influence.

A new poll of company leaders shows that 75 percent of them regard political giving as “pay-to-play,” and even more said they would like the campaign-finance system vastly improved or completely rewritten.

Almost 90 percent favor limiting how much money individuals, corporations and outside groups can spend for political purposes during an election. The survey also found wide support for a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose to shareholders all of their political expenditures

“There’s an impression that there is money being used to buy politicians, and that therefore they are not beholden to the electorate but to donors,” said Steve Odland, president and chief executive officer of the Committee for Economic Development and a former CEO of Office Depot Inc.

The committee’s online survey of 302 executives was conducted May 29 to June 3 jointly by Democratic polling firm Hart Research and Republican pollster American Viewpoint. The Committee for Economic Development, a nonprofit business policy group based in Washington, released the survey today as part of its push for more disclosure in campaign finance.

Chamber Objection

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected to the survey’s findings, sending a lawyer to the Committee for Economic Development’s event today at the National Press Club in Washington. The business trade group criticized the poll as unscientific and agenda-driven, invoking the name of a billionaire Democratic donor whose nonprofit Open Society Institute has provided funding for CED programs.

“This survey is not representative of the business community and given that George Soros is contributing to the organization conducting it, the results should not be surprising,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokeswoman, in an e-mailed statement. “The Chamber and its members understand that the real goal of the so-called disclosure push is to limit or remove altogether the business voice from the political and policymaking process.”

CED’s survey of executives was funded by the Omidyar Network Fund Inc., a nonprofit established by EBay Inc. co-founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife.

2012 Money

Trade groups such as the Chamber are among those that the CED says are responsible for obscuring money in politics. Together with unions and nonprofits, groups that don’t disclose their donors invested more than $335 million in the 2012 federal elections, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

The survey of executives found that 86 percent said transparency in the campaign-finance system isn’t adequate. Accompanying the poll is a CED report calling for more donor disclosure.

“Political donors and spenders are finding it increasingly easy to avoid public scrutiny, as a growing number of organizations take advantage of porous rules to finance campaign activity without revealing the sources of their funding,” wrote Anthony Corrado, project director of CED’s Money in Politics and a professor of government specializing in campaign finance at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Distaste for the campaign-finance system bridges Democrats and Republicans, according to the survey, with 71 percent of self-identified Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans saying that major contributors have too much influence on politicians.

SEC Rule

Almost all of the surveyed Democratic executives, as well as 79 percent of Republican executives, said they would favor an SEC rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose political spending.

Increasingly, companies are voluntarily making that information public. A September 2012 study by the Washington-based Center for Political Accountability found that 45 of 88 companies provide information about their corporate donations, up from 36 a year earlier.

The Committee for Economic Development’s survey of executives’ views comes a month after a Sunlight Foundation report analyzed “elite” donors. That report found that just 0.01 percent of the U.S. population accounted for 28 percent of the total $6 billion spent in the 2012 elections.

About 16.5 percent of those 31,385 elite donors listed their occupation as “CEO” or “chairman” of a company, according to the foundation, a Washington-based group that advocates for increased government transparency.

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