After the 2009’s Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in American elections, corporations were able to play an unprecedented role in 2010 election cycle. In the wake of the decision, many corporations set up front groups that allowed them to donate large sums of money to candidates without having to disclose information regarding their contributors.
Now, in Tennessee, lawmakers are trying to replicate the corporate takeover of the federal government by lifting the state’s own ban on direct corporate contributions and raising the amount of money PACs can contribute. The bill was sponsored by three Republican legislators and was approved by committees in both the House and Senate on party-line votes. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:
Direct corporate donations to political candidates will be legalized in Tennessee and the amount that can be given by all contributors will be raised by about 40 percent under legislation approved by House and Senate committees Tuesday.
For political action committees, for example, the maximum donation will increase from $7,500 to $10,700 and adjusted upward for inflation in future years. Corporations will be treated as if they were PACs under the bill, SB1915.
“It’s going to be like an arms race with Democrats and Republicans trying to compete for this corporate cash,” [House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike] Turner said.
In addition, individual candidates will be allowed to take in more corporate campaign cash. The law raises the total amount of PAC contributions a candidate can receive during each cycle from $75,000 to $107,200 per election cycle, making the corporate takeover of Tennessee’s state government even easier.
Tennessee’s largest employers already spend a large amount of money through PACs, which are funded by employee contributions. A search by the Nashville Tennessean revealed that PACs affiliated with the state’s 25 largest companies have given nearly $750,000 to candidates and other PACs since 2009. FedEx, one of the state’s largest employers, provided $450,000 to Tennessee candidates and PACs during that time by funneling money through Federal Express PAC, which made 144 political contributions in 2010 alone. Under the new law, however, corporations will not have to solicit contributions from individual workers and can instead make direct donations from their own funds, allowing them to spend even more money to advance their interests.
The result will likely be similar to what happened on the federal level in 2010, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and front-groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity were able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in helping elect politicians that were sympathetic to their corporate causes. The result ensured that the Koch brothers, the Chamber, and other corporate groups would have friends in powerful Congressional positions, and also that they would have ample access to them.
Americans already think corporations have too much influence in politics. Unfortunately, lawmakers like those in Tennessee are only making it easier for corporations to wield more and more influence in the political system, at the direct expense of individual Americans.