Shareholders United

By Cox, Rob | Newsweek, May 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Shareholders United


Cox, Rob, Newsweek


Byline: Rob Cox

Staying out of politics is good for business.

It's worrying to think that shareholder democracy is needed to rectify shortcomings in the real thing, yet this week two of the nation's biggest corporations will give their investors precisely that opportunity. Motions on the ballots at the annual meetings of Bank of America and 3M will act as referenda on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which handed companies the same freedoms of speech accorded people. Happily, restricting the use of corporate money in politics isn't just good for democracy, it's good business.

In Citizens United, the court struck down limits on political spending by corporations and unions, holding that such restrictions were prohibited by the First Amendment. The ruling risked undermining faith in the democratic process by opening the floodgates to an unprecedented flow of money into political campaigns. Justice John Paul Stevens summed it up best in his dissent: "A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold."

The Supreme Court could get another crack at the issue thanks to Montana's high court, which decided the ruling did not supersede state laws on political corruption. In the meantime, though, it will be up to citizen shareholders to blunt the impact of Citizens United. …

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