January 24, 2014
Securities and Exchange Commission
Dear Securities and Exchange Commission,
I am writing to urge you to return rule #4-637 to the 2014 rule making agenda for swift enactment. This rule, requiring public companies to disclose political spending, is essential in order to make our policy processes more transparent, shine light on corporate political influence and activity, and protect/restore democracy and the American Dream in the U.S.
We like to think of the U.S. as the bastion of democracy and freedom (of speech, association, trade, religion, etc.) but more and more, special interests are influencing politics, law, trade, social discourse, safety (e.g. through gun laws and an ineffective criminal justice system), education, science, consumer protection, the quality of the food supply, human health and health care systems, taxes, administration of public dollars, environmental regulations, retirement security, and so many other things that affect the quality of life for all Americans. My family and I lived in one of those "socialist" European countries for a year, and we had a much greater sense of freedom, civility, safety, better health care and sound nutrition, mutual respect, and culture than we have here. In fact, I feel like I am being held hostage by special interests here, with the usual result that I have to pay more for less, and the governments' capacity to protect my interests is constantly being eroded.
Government and the private sector both have roles in sustaining the social fabric, they have always worked together, and there has always been tension between them. There is no "free market" and there never has been, and I for one do not want to live in a society without rules and democratically-mediated oversight. In Europe, one feels the role of government is to take care of the people. In the U.S., one feels the role of government is to take care of the corporations (much of it due to the fairy tales of "trickle-down" and "free-market" economics). If people were all responsible and concerned with the social good, then we could all walk around with guns and not worry about their misuse (e.g. we wouldn't need gun laws). The sad reality of excessive gun violence in America is EVIDENCE that not all people are responsible and we cannot have a "free gun" society. Similarly, the recent contamination of water supplies near Charleston, WV, is EVIDENCE that environmental regulations are still needed because not all companies can be trusted to do the right thing. The recent massive data breach at TARGET is EVIDENCE that corporations are still allowed to use antiquated technology to conduct electronic transactions that risks our personal and financial information even though much more efficient and secure systems are in use in other parts of the world. In NC, the insurance industry wants to raise premiums on homeowners policies by 35%, while as a public servant I haven't had a cost-of-living increase in my paycheck since 2007. Why are the big corporations allowed to do these things and the American people have no choice in the matter?
The reason more and more people are having such a hard time paying the bills, getting a good education and saving for college, obtaining quality health care, being safe in their neighborhoods, earning a secure retirement, etc., is that a larger fraction of society's wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the relatively few at the top ("trickle up" economics), because they have disproportionate influence to engineer the rules and regulations to their benefit. The widespread poverty, crime, poor education and high-school drop-out crisis, drug abuse, gun violence, ethical and moral decay (in our entertainment and behavior), repeated corruption and risk-taking at the highest levels of our large businesses on which we all depend, etc., are all EVIDENCE that the American Dream is in serious jeopardy for a growing fraction of the population, if not most of it. The extent to which special interest groups have been able to penetrate and influence our political system, especially recently, is one of the greatest threats to democracy and quality of life in America. Remember McCain-Feingold? At least we used to talk about campaign finance reform, but now the special interests have penetrated to such an extent that the money is becoming unrestricted and totally intractable. This is not the America I want to live in, nor what I think the Founding Fathers had in mind. Let's get Big Money out of our political system, and put the protections in place that ensure all Americans have a shot at the American Dream.
Please enact rule #4-637. Thank you.
Dr. John King
Department Of Forestry And Environmental Resouces
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-0001