As a small business owner, I believe success in business should come from hard work, creativity and good customer service — not political influence. Main Street businesses contend with big corporate interests every day, both our direct competitors and the larger companies we do business with, such as health insurers and banks. We welcome these challenge — but we want to face them on a level playing field.
We don't have that level playing field because corporate political spending stacks the deck against us. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for unlimited — and secret — corporate spending in elections. Now, corporate money is drowning out our voices and producing policies that benefit narrow special interests at the expense of our businesses, our communities, and our democracy. It's time to unstack the deck.
Almost 74 percent of Main Street small business owners in Oregon have said they felt that the Citizens United decision was bad for small business, while only 3 percent said it has been good for small business. Even though we've made strides here in Oregon — recently passing HJM 6 to become the 16th state to officially call on Congress to draft and send to the states for ratification an amendment to the Constitution declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech — fully fixing the damages created by the Citizens United decision and others is a long road and we still have a ways to go.
That said, there is a short-term remedy: a proposal for a new rule at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. As a small business owner, I hope the SEC acts quickly to adopt this proposal.
There is a tradition of hard, honest work here in Oregon, and I want to make sure that is recognized and acknowledged. How can we say that we live in a fair and balanced democracy when the super wealthy and big business can secretly and discretely buy their way into politics?
We've heard time and time again from the U.S. Chamber and the Big Business lobby that these types of secret spending are good for small business. In fact U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO, Tom Donohue, publicizes the "deniability" offered by the U.S. Chamber as a benefit to corporations that want to influence elections without leaving a trace of their corporate "fingerprints."
Let me get one thing straight: When the defenders of secret campaign spending, like the U.S. Chamber say they're speaking for small business, they're not speaking for me and other Oregon Main Street business owners. All it really does is let special interests push their agendas in the name of "small business." This needs to stop, now.
The path to a fair, level playing field for small business and the rest of our communities begins with the full disclosure of political spending. It is critical to ensure honest competition and a strong economy that rewards transparency and innovation, not secrecy and pay-to-play politics.
Sen. Jeff Merkley can play an important leadership role here — he sits on the Senate Banking Committee. I hope he'll use that authority to advance disclosure of secret money by urging the adoption of this new rule.
It's time to move toward a more transparent, level playing field so small businesses can compete with a fair hand, not a deck that's stacked against us. It's time for the SEC to adopt the rule on disclosure.
Mark Kellenbeck is the owner of BrainJoy LLC in Medford and is co-chairman of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide network of more than 1,400 local, independent small businesses dedicated to providing small businesses a voice on the most pressing public policy issues in Oregon and nationally.