Secret campaign donations suppress women’s issues

San Jose Mercury News

Adelson, Katzenberg, Koch, McNair, Bloomberg – donors wealthy enough to exert enormous pressure on candidates and put their own policy priorities front and center in national debates – have been dubbed “Kingmakers” in the headlines by Forbes, Time and The Washington Post.

The headlines tell us what we already know – that billionaires and other wealthy special interests are preventing everyday voters from having a say in their government.

The headlines usually fail to mention the obvious: This tiny elite is almost exclusively male – as are nearly 75 percent of campaign contributors who make donations over $10,000.

As The Sacramento Bee recently reported, women are underrepresented in California politics. One reason is that women lack the same level of access to wealth as some of their male counterparts. Money should not stop feminist candidates who want to stand up for women’s rights in California and across the country.

Running for office should not require a pre-established donor network or family fortune to qualify.

A truly representative democracy is one where everyone counts and everyone’s voice is heard. But when “voice” is equated with how much money one donates, women will rarely be heard. It’s time for our leaders in government to represent their views and the views of most Americans, not just their biggest donors.

Unfortunately, billionaires aren’t the only ones trying to buy influence. At least these kingmakers are known to the public. Even more insidious are the donors who cloak their election spending beneath a veil of secrecy. Fifty-eight percent of outside spending in the 2012 presidential election was anonymous compared to just 30 percent in 2008. The figures are expected to reach new heights in the 2016 election.

Empowered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations are able to spend an unlimited amount of money in our elections. Many are zealously represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a huge opponent of fair-pay legislation aimed at eliminating the gender and gender-race wage gaps.

In 2010, the chamber criticized women’s fight for equal pay, claiming that the fight was fueled by “a fetish for money.”

Like the donor class, the corporate boardrooms and C-suites of federal contractors are male-dominated. Even as federal contractors supply products and services to women and employ a large number of women in their workforce, we have no way of knowing if they are secretly backing candidates who oppose equal pay for women in the workplace or access to birth control.

We deserve to know if our employers are funneling funds through organizations that don’t disclose their donors to assist candidates pushing a discriminatory agenda.

Transparency is critical for a functioning democracy. Women shouldn’t have to worry that the money we spend buying toothpaste or lunch or gas might be setting back our right to equal pay for equal work or jeopardizing our prescription coverage.

While overturning the Citizens United decision will take time, President Barack Obama has the power to fix this problem tomorrow. With a stroke of a pen, he can sign an executive order requiring all federal contractors to disclose every penny they spend in our elections.

We shouldn’t have to worry if our employers are tacitly undermining women’s wages across the country. Everyone in the U.S. has a right to know who is funding the attacks on women and who is secretly trying to influence our elections.

Terry O’Neill is the president of the National Organization for Women.