President Obama’s Top 12 Failures on Money in Politics

By Kurt Walters

President Obama that his “New Year’s resolution is to move forward on our unfinished business as much as I can.”

As President Obama enters his final 12 months in office, one issue sticks out from his legacy as a glaring example of inaction and unfulfilled promises: the unfettered rise of big money in politics.

President Obama has steps he can take — without Congress or the Supreme Court — to fight secret and unlimited spending in elections. But six years after Citizens United, he has taken none of them.

After a ‘We the People’ petition hosted at passed the threshold of 100,000 signers, the Obama administration now must publicly respond to a for President Obama to take executive action against secret political spending.

As a reminder of why this should be at the top of his list of “unfinished business,” here are the top 12 times President Obama has failed to take action against the big donors and secret money dominating our elections — or has actively increased their power:

1) President Obama has not moved forward with an executive order to fight secret political spending. President Obama has backed away from issuing an executive order requiring large federal contractors — — to disclose their political spending. , and have called on him to sign the executive order right away.

The Obama administration is on the hook to respond to a ‘We the People’ petition calling for him to issue the ‘No Secret Money’ executive order by his State of the Union address.

2) He allowed ‘riders’ into the 2015 omnibus bill that limit the executive branch’s ability to reduce secret money in politics — and signed them into law. Two policy riders in the 2015 omnibus budget bill . While championed by Republicans, the administration made no public statements against these riders and issued no veto threat, in fact saying the bill Politico’s headline summed up what happened:

3) Obama’s SEC chair has refused to advance a rule requiring corporations to disclose their political spending. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White removed a rule requiring public companies to disclose their political spending from the SEC’s calendar soon after Obama appointed her. In response, 44 U.S. Senators wrote Chair White a letter expressing their “frustration and disappointment” with her action. The disclosure rule is also the most requested rule by investors in SEC history. Despite a policy rider in the 2015 omnibus spending bill restricting the ability of the SEC to “finalize” the political spending disclosure rule in 2016, .

4) He signed into law a huge increase in contribution limits in the 2014 CRomnibus, weakening a critical anti-corruption rule. The 2014 “CRomnibus” bill to fund the government , from $260,000 every two years to $1.6 million. After this important anti-corruption rule was gutted, .

As President Obama enters his final 12 months in office, one issue sticks out from his legacy as a glaring example of inaction and unfulfilled promises: the unfettered rise of big money in politics.

5) President Obama has failed to appoint new commissioners to the FEC, allowing the election watchdog to become totally dysfunctional. President Obama has neglected the primary regulatory agency for campaigns, the Federal Election Commission. Seven years into his term, the president has appointed only two of the six sitting commissioners and five of the six Commissioners serve on expired terms and could be replaced. Meanwhile, the FEC is now by its own chair, gridlocks at , and last month made it

6) Inaction by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has allowed political nonprofits to exploit a massive “dark money loophole.” The IRS Commissioner Obama appointed, John Koskinen, has repeatedly delayed issuing rules clarifying the political activity tax-exempt nonprofits can undertake. This has despite being required to be operated “exclusively” to promote the social welfare.

7) Obama’s FCC has not used its authority to require disclosure of the “true identity” of political ad sponsors. Tom Wheeler, Obama’s Federal Communications Commission chair, has declared that it is to use the Commission’s already existing authority to require greater disclosure of the funders of political ads.

8) President Obama “blatantly” broke campaign pledges to take public financing in 2008 and disavow super PACs in 2012. Obama promised to “aggressively pursue” an agreement with his Republican opponent to both participate in public financing for the 2008 general election. . In 2012, an not to let his staff or associates fundraise for a super PAC supporting his re-election campaign.

A ‘We the People’ petition hosted at recently passed 100,000 signers. The Obama administration must now publicly respond to a for executive action against secret political spending.

9) He reversed a promise to push for Fair Elections-style public campaign financing. President Obama to work toward public campaign financing of congressional elections and to participate in and repair the presidential public financing system. He has done none of these.

10) Obama reversed his policy on corporate contributions, allowing them to underwrite his 2013 inauguration. At the start of his second term, President Obama broke course with his decision to bar corporate contributions for his 2009 inauguration, .

11) He turned his campaign operation into a nonprofit set up to accept unlimited donations to further his political agenda. Obama converted his campaign organization into a nonprofit group set up to accept unlimited contributions and with no mandated disclosure (although it voluntarily provided a limited amount of donor information). , saying, “Organizing for Action should be renamed Paying for Access.”

12) Signed into law a repeal of public financing of party conventions — creating a huge opportunity for big donor influence peddling. In 2014, , opening the door to unfettered influence buying by large donors seeking to curry favor with the nation’s most powerful political figures.

Bonus! In response to calls for action, Obama has merely passed the buck to Congress or the Supreme Court. President Obama has freely criticized the Supreme Court for its Citizens United decision and Republicans for blocking the DISCLOSE Act. But when pushed by reporters on the executive actions the president can take to fight secret money in politics, . The Obama administration acknowledges no concrete plans to combat secret money in advance of the 2016 election.

The Obama administration is required to respond by early February to the petition at , organized by Rootstrikers and a coalition of 19 organizations.

The petition demands that President Obama:

  • Issue an executive order by his State of the Union address that requires federal contractors to disclose their political spending within 24 hours of it happening and takes effect before July 4, 2016.
  • Immediately call on the leaders he appointed to the SEC, IRS, and FCC to use their authority to unmask secret political donors, and fill all five FEC openings with nominees who will enforce the law.

With the State of the Union address on January 12, we’ll see whether President Obama truly intends to move forward on his unfinished business.

About Rootstrikers

Rootstrikers is a new generation of activists taking a stand against the corrupting influence of money in politics and Wall Street’s attempts to rig the game against everyday Americans. We are a project of Demand Progress, led by executive director David Segal.

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