What’s in HR 1? Corporate Spending on Elections

This blog is one in a series on HR 1, the For The People Act.

Corporate Spending on Elections

As their first order of business, House Democrats introduced HR 1 as soon as the new 2019 Congress came into session. An anti-corruption, pro-democracy reform bill, the For The People Act is aimed at improving our democracy for all Americans by limiting the corrupting influence of money in politics and making voting easier, not harder.

Since the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) ruling in 2010, corporations’ political spending has wreaked havoc on our elections by giving outsized influence to the wealthy and well-connected. To address this, HR 1 proposes two things:

  1. Digital companies must set up public databases listing political ad purchase requests of $500 or more.
  2. Corporations must disclose political spending.

Forcing digital companies such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose political spending will allow citizens to clearly distinguish between paid ads, news, and organic content. Not only that, but it will also inform social media users of just who is targeting them with ads and allow them to do their own research on the source of the ad and its veracity.

Similarly, the disclosure of corporations’ political spending will provide greater transparency in just what values these companies espouse and the candidates and issues they support. This information will allow citizens to frequent businesses that align with their values, and no longer frequent ones that don’t. While this is not a perfect fix to the almost unlimited amount of political spending corporations have in the aftermath of Citizens United, it a start. At the very least, pulling the curtain and putting the spotlight on these actors will allow more Americans to make informed decisions on how they spend their money.

The impact of these measures cannot be understated. With fake news, both actual and imagined, taking over during the last few election cycles, it’s important for Americans to know just what entities are producing content and for what ends. While the disclosure of public spending and online ad buys will not make fake news a thing of the past, it arms voters will more information to make informed decisions around the content they are consuming and allowing to influence their vote.

Ultimately, while not the total solution to increasing transparency in our elections, HR 1’s handling of corporate spending and digital companies is a step in the right direction. In making political ads and campaign spending more transparent, the public will be able to hold producers of fake news accountable and vote with their dollar when it comes to corporate spending.

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