It’s Time to Expose the Secret Money Threatening Our Democracy

by Rachel Rye Butler

October 22, 2015

We've teamed up with artists on a giant, 3D chalk mural that uncovers the secrets beneath the surface of our democracy. And today, we're delivering it to President Obama's doorstep.

Democracy Chalkart Mural In Washington

Greenpeace has teamed up with artists from Chalk Riot to create a giant, 3D mural aimed at exposing outsized corporate influence in our democracy.

©Colin Wheeler/Greenpeace

Political spending by big donors and corporations is an open secret in our democracy — but what’s stayed secret so far is exactly who’s doing the giving and what favors they’re getting in return. With executive action from President Obama, however, we the people can start to take our democracy back.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision gave corporations carte blanche for unlimited political spending, corporations have been pumping millions into elections to secure politicians most likely to vote in their favor — and using front groups do it in secret. This way, they’re buying influence without having to disclose their political donations.

With the 2016 presidential campaign well underway, it’s past time to act. Right now, companies like Shell, Exxon, and others that do business with the government can secretly spend untold sums of cash fighting sound environmental policies and no one would be the wiser.

So, Who’s Buying Our Democracy?

In the time since Citizens United, one-third of all government contracts have been awarded to 200 corporations that have engaged in political activity. And these companies can keep that activity quiet, even though it’s likely they are using financial might to flex their political muscles.

Two of the biggest government contractors spending cash on elections are Tennessee Valley Authority — one of the biggest customers of major polluter Arch Coal — and Occidental Petroleum — a company that leases federal land to extract natural gas. And both, it would appear, have been successful buying influence in Congress.

Occidental has given money to a number of Senators who have actively opposed attempts at clean energy, including staunch climate deniers Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Joe Barton of (R-TX). Similarly, lobbyists for Arch Coal once played a major role in Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) proposed amendment to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

And these are just two of the players that we know about. How much money from these corporations is flying under the radar, and at what cost to our environment?

President Obama has spoken about the need to get money out of politics, but hasn’t yet taken action. If he wants to be remembered as the climate leader he says he is, it’s time for him to change that. By using his powers to issue an executive order requiring that all government contractors disclose their political spending, he can help close secret money loopholes that allow corporations to covertly buy influence in our democracy.

Stemming the Tide of Secret Money

Greenpeace and our allies have been pushing for the #NoSecretMoney executive order for months. Already, more than 500,000 people across the country have stepped up with a broad coalition of organizations demanding action, but there’s still no movement from the White House.

Now we’re upping the stakes.

This week, a team of artists is working with Greenpeace on a giant, 3D chalk mural that works to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of our democracy. When it’s finished, we’ll lay it out on President Obama’s doorstep to urge him to protect our democracy from the secret influence of big money donors and corporations.

Democracy Chalkart Mural In Washington

Liza Fishbone from Chalk Riot at work on the #NoSecretMoney mural. The mural creation began in Washington, D.C.’s Freedom Plaza early on October 21 and is expected to be completed today. Photo by Mannie Garcia / Greenpeace.

The design itself is a 3D “reveal” of an underground chamber with secret money pipelines — an attention-grabbing visual that works to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of our democracy (see photos of the mural’s progress here).

The #NoSecretMoney executive order isn’t the only answer to Citizens United, but it’s an important start. We’re going to keep up the pressure in a major way over the next month, and we need your help.

Sign the ‘No Secret Money’ petition to the president now. It’s going to take all of us pressuring the White House to do the right thing.

Rachel Rye Butler

By Rachel Rye Butler

Rachel Rye Butler is a campaigner at Greenpeace USA

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