Experts Wary of Wider 'Citizens United' Impact

     WASHINGTON (CN) - A group of campaign finance experts said the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, allowing unlimited, undisclosed corporate contributions in elections, could reach far beyond next week's midterm elections, possibly letting corporations become subparties themselves.
     "Our political system is so badly corrupted that it is imploding in front of our eyes," said Ed Kangas, former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu International at a panel at the Committee for Economic Development, a Washington policy group.
     Kangas attributed the anti-incumbent sentiment of this year's election season to a reaction to corporate influence in politics.
     Corporate spending influencing elections "has become so blatant ... that the American people have finally figured it out," Kangas said. He promised even stronger support for campaign-finance reform after the elections, after voters "vaporize incumbents from both parties."
     Jeanne Cummings, assistant managing editor at Politico, said zero disclosure of corporate spending on elections could lead to "strong subsets of corporate parties" who do not care which party is voting for their interests so long as their legislative agenda is advanced. Cummings cited ethanol interests or the coal industry as becoming possible corporate subsets that could "take on both Democratic and Republican parties."
     Cummings said voluntary corporate disclosure in this election might discourage corporations from voluntarily revealing donor information in the future.
     She cited the example of American Crossroads, a nonprofit political organization formed by former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and former Bush strategist Karl Rove, which promised to donate $75 million in this year's elections. When the organization did not get as many donations as it expected by going public, it created a second arm so people could give secretly.
     She also said Target's efforts to disclose its $150,000 contribution to a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate was "pretty much a nightmare" after employees and customers raged against the candidate's conservative stance on social issues, such as abortion.
     Cummings predicted that in future election cycles, there will be "many, many more American Crossroads ... and everything will go underground."
     Sam Rodgers, communication director at Zogby International, said a survey of more than 300 business leaders conducted in the past week revealed that 91 percent of those surveyed felt corporations had some or a great amount of influence in the political process.
     When asked about this election season, 83 percent said they felt some degree of pressure to make political contributions. Of those surveyed, 55 percent said the biggest reason for giving donations was to gain access to influence the legislative process, 17 percent said it was to avoid adverse legislative consequences and 16 percent said it was to promote a certain ideological position.
     Of those surveyed, 49 percent reported that they felt increased pressure to make contributions since the 2008 elections, and more than half, or 51 percent, believed the amount of money being solicited was high, with 29 percent saying the amount was excessive.
     Assessing the level of concern for how their donations were being used, 45 percent said they were concerned that the contributions were being used negative political ads.
     Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, condemned undisclosed contributions as "legalized bribery of our elected officials." He also predicted a backlash from the campaign finance reform community after midterms.
     Wertheimer supports increased small-donor participation with donations matched by public funds.