Reducing Corporate Influence in Politics


In America, at least, businesses have a good deal of influence in politics. Many policies surrounding, for example, the agricultural sector run contrary to the preferences of voters but adhere to the preferences of agrobusiness.

Assuming that the reduction of corporate influence in politics were a desirable outcome, how would one go about doing it?

The discussion of whether or not corporate influence is ultimately a good thing in politics is outside the scope of this question. This question is simply to address how one could eliminate or reduce corporate influence in the creation and enforcement of policy. Answers can be, but need not necessarily be limited to apply to the American government.


Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 9 312

"I don't understand how corporations influence either, that's why I need the assistance of this community finding out how to stop it." – Avi
@Avi, "I don't understand how corporations influence either, that's why I need the assistance of this community finding out how to stop it," So, you want us to come up with solutions for stopping actions that influence politics, but you have no idea what those actions are that our solutions are supposed to prevent? I vote to close.
– user1873 – 2013-09-29T14:13:08.643

I don't see what the grounds for closing are. I know that there is corporate influence in politics, or at least that politicians often side with corporate interests rather than the interests of their constituents. That's what I want to solve. The fact that I don't know how this happens is the whole reason I'm asking the question. If I knew, I wouldn't need to ask the question. – Publius – 2013-09-29T14:38:04.230

"politicians often side with corporate interests rather than the interests of their constituents. That's what I want to solve." Is it possible that the politicians are siding towards their own interests? If that is the problem you want to solve, vote in different politicians who side with their constituents or remove politicians power to affect anyone's interests. – user1873 – 2013-09-29T14:49:23.300

Maybe your question should be, "How do I get citizens stop electing the same politicians?" Or "How do I get citizens to elect politicians that care about siding with their constituents?" If the same politicians keep getting reelected when siding with corporations, isn't that the fault of the voters? – user1873 – 2013-09-29T14:54:08.100

You really don't see grounds for closing? "This question is simply to address how one could eliminate or reduce corporate influence in the creation and enforcement of policy." How are we to eliminate or reduce something that we have no idea what is, or how it occurs? Without knowing what "corporate influence" is or how it occurs, I suppose you could eliminate corporations or eliminate the enforcement/creation of government policy. (Non-existence seems pretty definitive.) But, without knowing what you mean by "corporate influence," it is going to be difficult to come up with solutions to it. – user1873 – 2013-09-29T15:29:07.940

I've given you some examples. It's unreasonable to expect me to know how this influence occurs, given that it's likely deliberately secretive. – Publius – 2013-09-29T17:43:39.600

then the question is unanswerable (a good reason to close), barring the simple solutions of removing corporations or enforcement/creation of government policy. How are SE supposed to measure the effectiveness of solutions to a problems that are secretive (and therefore probably not measurable). – user1873 – 2013-09-29T17:48:48.733

I figured there may be somebody who knows. It seems unlikely that this isn't a problem people have been working on. I'd like to know proposed solutions and their effectiveness. Just because I don't know how these things goes on doesn't mean somebody who used to work in politics doesn't, and it doesn't mean that my question is impossible to answer. I mean, people have been trying to answer it, which seems silly if it's so obviously impossible. – Publius – 2013-09-29T17:55:43.497

It isn't impossible, all three answers so far have provided answers that eliminate the problem. Removal of capitalism (with communism I suspect) means that corporations don't control the means of production, the state controls it. I don't see how they could influence themselves. Removing the states power in such matters also solves the problem. If the state cannot pass laws to regulate industry, it can hardly be corrupted by corporations trying to impose regulations. Finally, my solution removes corporations right to freedom of speech either by court decision or amendment. – user1873 – 2013-09-29T18:13:04.467

They're silly and deliberately hyperbolic proposals designed to ridicule my question rather than answer it. I'd prefer a realistic proposal or a proof that no realistic proposals are popular. – Publius – 2013-09-29T18:21:16.057

1perhaps he question isn't defined well enough to provide the answer you are looking for. For example, you said that you know that corporations influence policy towards their advantage and against the interests of voters. Then why isn't it possible for citizens who outnumber corporations to employ the same tactics to influence policy towards their advantage and against corporations. What tactics are available to corporations that appear to be unavailable to voters? – user1873 – 2013-09-29T18:45:51.683

I don't know. If I knew that, I'd be able to answer my own question by saying that we should perhaps regulate those specific tactics. If you know of such tactics, or know that none such exist, I invite you to say that in your answer. – Publius – 2013-09-29T18:57:26.063

you see that is my point. If you want solutions to specific tactics, we need to know what those tactics are. For example, money has long been lauded in politics to tip the scales of democracy away from the will of the people. (Interestingly enough, one proposed solution is to overturn Citizens United by constitutional amendment (my solution)) "a constitutional amendment this spring with a push for 100 resolutions by local and state governments supporting the overturning of Citizens United."

– user1873 – 2013-09-29T19:15:28.287

1Corporations only have influence through the actions of people. It sounds to me like your question is "How can we persuade people to neglect thinking about their means of income when making political decisions?". – dcaswell – 2013-09-29T22:24:27.107

This smells VERY heavily of a dupe, though I can't find the original at the moment – user4012 – 2013-09-30T00:28:39.290

Also, sorry but -1 since the question is based on a faulty premise - you yourself said in the comments "I don't understand how corporations influence either" and therefore you can't show that they DO have influence (correlation is not causation, whereas 'influence' is causative) – user4012 – 2013-09-30T00:32:26.417

@user1873 first I need to know what those tactics are. There is knowledge I don't have and I'm asking for this community's help to find it. I don't understand why my question should be closed because I don't know it's answer. – Publius – 2013-09-30T01:37:42.497

@DVK I gave examples. This question is clearly on-topic, and people other than me have been searching for an answer. I really don't understand the opposition here. I'm asking how to reduce corporate influence in politics. Are you denying such influence exists? If not, then what exactly is your issue here? – Publius – 2013-09-30T01:38:00.763

@Avi - you have examples of your personal theories. it's impossible to provide a policy that prevents something that doesn't exist (and a theory isn't proof of something existing). Mind you, i'm not saying there's no influence - merely that your question does NOT establish its existence at all. This is similar to Skeptics - if you don't show a specific claim to be debunked, you can't expect it to be properly debunked. You don't show specific influence (existence of some rule you don't think should exist isn't "influence", it's merely a reason to start looking for influence). – user4012 – 2013-09-30T13:22:23.567



Repeal the 1st Amendment, or reverse the ruling of Citizens United v. FEC

It would matter what sort of influence you were interested in reducing. Corporations have little influence when it comes to direct campaign donations, since currently it illegal for corporations to donate directly to political campaigns. This leaves Political Action Committees (PACs), whose donations to political parties/multiple-candidate are a paltry sum.

$5,000 to a candidate or candidate committee for each election (primary and general elections count as separate elections);

$15,000 to a political party per year; and

$5,000 to another PAC per year. PACs may make unlimited expenditures independently of a candidate or political party

As far as how influential spending in political campaigns is, Steve Levitt, Freakinomics co-author found that:

When a candidate doubled their spending, holding everything else constant, they only got an extra one percent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose one percent of the popular vote. So we’re talking about really large swings in campaign spending with almost trivial changes in the vote.

Supposing you wanted to eliminate that %1-2% edge, you have the issue that the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission that corporations/labor unions free speech cannot be abridged by Congress if the 1st Amendment is to have any teeth.

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for engaging in political speech [...] Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” §441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions. It is a ban notwithstanding the fact that a PAC created by a corporation can still speak, for a PAC is a separate association from the corporation.

Repealing an amendment (like the 21st repealed the 18th) to the Constitution requires that either both houses of Congress by 2/3rds supermajority, or a constitutional convention or 2/3rds of the state legislators propose an amendment.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments [...]

Then, the amendment needs to be ratified by 2/3rds of the states

A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (38 of 50 States).

The second route is trickier. Overturning Citizens United v. FEC would probably require that a new set of SCOTUS Justices. The same justices would likely rule the same way as their previous opinions. With a 5/4 split between concurring and dissenting opinions, you would need for Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, or Thomas to leave the bench. SCOTUS Justices are appointed for life, so you would need either kill one or wait for for one to die.

Additionally, to bring a case to trial, you need what is called standing. You need to demonstrate to the court how you were personally harmed by the fact that a corporate PAC caused you harm. This would likely require that you would need to run for office, and show that a PACs political free speech caused you harm.


Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 13 508

Would it be better if I referenced the chart on page 25 from the FEC instead of Wikipedia. Straight from the horses mouth and all?

– user1873 – 2013-09-28T21:03:12.330

Revoking a supreme court decision isn't anything that anyone outside the supreme court can do, so I'm not really sure it qualifies as a solution. This would be a better answer if you could demonstrate that SuperPAC donations have a significant influence on the creation of policy (not just a small influence on who gets elected), and that there is no other way to reduce corporate interference that doesn't involve the repeal of the first amendment. – Publius – 2013-09-29T03:32:13.673

Also, it seems as though repealing the first amendment wouldn't really reduce corporate influence in politics, at least not proportionally, because that would disenfranchise citizens as much as corporations. – Publius – 2013-09-29T03:42:18.707

@Avi, "Revoking a supreme court decision isn't anything that anyone outside the supreme court can do", I indicated the necessary steps to revoke SCOTUSs decision, but now I am really confused. You seem to be indicating that you only want personal actions that can be taken to reduce "corporate influence" (which you have failed to define). Since that is what you you are looking for, couldn't people just do whatever it is that corporations are doing to influence politics? Citizens outnumber corporations, so it seems they would have the edge. – user1873 – 2013-09-29T04:59:49.930

I'd like a political answer, not a legal answer. I felt I didn't have to clarify that as this is If your suggestion to revoke the first amendment were to work it might be a relevant answer. For examples of corporate influence affecting the creation and enforcement of policy contrary to the will of the voters, check out Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Corporations often use their influence to block the enforcement of agricultural regulation and oppose animal welfare laws that the majority of americans would support. – Publius – 2013-09-29T05:55:53.463

If you want another example, you can also check out HSBC, which laundered money for drug cartels and the Iranian nuclear program, and got off with a slap on the wrist fine. – Publius – 2013-09-29T06:40:54.570

From your examples, I don't understand how a corporations influence anything, you just claim that they do with no evidence to show what they did to influence the outcome of politics. "the agricultural sector run contrary to the preferences of voters but adhere to the preferences of agrobusiness," How? Political donations to candidates? " block the enforcement of agricultural regulation and oppose animal welfare laws that the majority of americans would support." How? "HSBC [...] got off with a slap on the wrist fine." How? Bribed a judge? – user1873 – 2013-09-29T12:16:08.163

I don't understand how corporations influence either, that's why I need the assistance of this community finding out how to stop it. And a repeal of the first amendment is a political solution (it doesn't rely on the courts, but elected officials), but I'm not convinced that it would work and it seems as though it would be overkill: you'd have to demonstrate a less severe option isn't available. – Publius – 2013-09-29T13:00:08.763

@Avi, since you want a political answer that relies on elected officials and not the courts, you could always get Congress to increase SCOTUS's size by 2+ justices so you could stack the court to rule Citizens United v. FEC in your favor.

– user1873 – 2013-09-29T13:58:45.137

A repeal of the first amendment isn't necessary - simply a reversal - or explicit repeal - of the rules in that political speech by corporations is covered by the amendment. – DJClayworth – 2013-09-30T02:49:04.880

@DJClayworth, I covered that with Citizens United v. FEC. I noted it would likely require replacing one of the concurring justices. (In comments I noted that Congress could expand SCOTUS to 11 justices to stack the court and achieve much the same result. Should I edit the answer and add that possibility? – user1873 – 2013-09-30T03:26:11.063


Smash capitalism? 30 character spacer.

Samuel Russell

Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 4 153


Because corruption doesn't exist in communist nations?

– user1873 – 2013-09-29T12:32:47.930

1@user1873 the question is not about corruption. Under Socialism as in the USSR the influence of the corporations in politics was minimal. – Anixx – 2013-09-29T13:18:38.813

This solution seems excessive. Can you demonstrate that no less severe solution would do the trick? It seems disingenuous to answer my question with the most ridiculous answer you can think of. – Publius – 2013-09-29T13:48:29.217

1The abolition of value is the most effective way to remove corporate influence from politics. If you want answers limited to bourgeois democracy then specify in your questions. – Samuel Russell – 2013-09-29T21:23:54.073

1@Avi, Russell's suggestion seems reasonable. Corporations are interested in making profits, if you remove profit from the industry that they inhabit, they will leave for more profitable venues. So for example, make growing food/raising animals unprofitable in the USA (through taxes/government regulation/etc.). Similar steps could be taken in the banking industry. Either regulate/tax them to death or setup a government bank. – user1873 – 2013-09-29T23:15:52.553

@Anixx - it can be argued either way. The influence was of a different nature, but you still had otkat, raspil etc... – user4012 – 2013-09-30T00:35:27.680


The only way to reduce corporate "influence" would be to eliminate a good deal of the government. The first mistake people make often is give politicians a pass, by acting like politicians were forced into this, and the second great mistake is to think they could stop the people they given nearly unlimited power to by having them write an easily avoidable law to somehow restrict themselves. When we give people control of tens of billions of dollars and power that's worth even more, we can only trust them to spend it right or not at all, in which case we shouldn't have given it to them in the first place. The solution is we need qualified and trust worthy leaders, so less lawyers and more engineers and doctors, but at the same time people have to realize no one can run, or has a track record of successively running a gigantic behemoths, like our government. Our leaders proclaimed purpose must be cutting the government down to a size they're repeatedly proven qualified to run. Only leaders proclaiming to do this could possibly considered to be trust worthy, and many incredible accomplishments of social improvement wouldn't hurt either. A crisis of unqualified and dishonest leadership is a problem in every country.

While there's nothing that could give one the experience to run such a supper sized organization, effectively, most seem to list their experience merely as worker in the same corrupt or similarly corrupt organization, otherwise known as career politician. A history of selling government power to business qualifies one to be promoted in government, therefore our standard of leadership is in the gutter.

Occupation of Congress as of 2010.
269 members (227 Representatives, two Delegates, and 40 Senators) served in state or territorial legislatures
214 members (182 Representatives and 33 Senators) list their occupation as public service/politics 225 (168 Representatives and 57 Senators) list law[19]
201 (175 Representatives and 27 Senators) list business
94 (78 Representatives and 16 Senators) list education

For more


Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 73

1I'm not sure this provides a solution, and regardless is entirely uncited. – Publius – 2013-09-29T03:29:03.157

It certainly doesn't provide an easy solution and it's all logic, based on common knowledge, so it requires one to think for one self. I'll go ahead and put in congressional occupations for further study. – Hiddenrecon – 2013-09-29T05:39:55.590

Logic applied to common knowledge doesn't constitute evidence. I'd like an answer that's substantiated with evidence. – Publius – 2013-09-29T05:52:15.073

While I appreciate your attempts to substantiate your argument, there's still a lot more that you haven't proven. You haven't shown that the careers of the politicians matters, or that a government the size of America's cannot be managed effectively, or that this poor management means that the government is vulnerable to corporate influence. – Publius – 2013-09-29T07:05:10.573

Common knowledge is evidence just about everybody knows or ignores. It's just happens to be common knowledge that politicians are not violently forced to take bribes and taking bribes means they're corrupt and one shouldn't trust money and power with the corrupt. The careers just shows that people got there qualifying experience by working in or with the same corrupt organization. It's not that it's technically impossible, there's just currently no one with such proven ability. Anything other than competently carrying out one's duty is working under the influence or/and poor management. – Hiddenrecon – 2013-09-30T04:16:41.760

My standards of evidence aren't going to change. People can attribute anything to common knowledge, but it's much harder to substantiate any point of view with actual evidence. – Publius – 2013-09-30T04:25:23.707

This is an odd mash of thoughts. – None – 2013-09-30T14:47:29.293

Ok, but my post is about the logic and common knowledge needed to know if someone or source of evidence can be trusted without having expertise in given subject. I'll do my best to improve it. – Hiddenrecon – 2013-10-01T00:11:04.043


Looked at worldwide, corporations in the US have much more influence than they do in other Western democracies.Much of this reduction has been achieved through relatively simple legislation, and here are some examples:

  • Tighten up the rules on what consititutes political advertizing. The rules in the US are very loose compared with other countries. For example an ad saying "Senator X has done a bad job and his policies would be bad for the country" is not technically a political advert. This means expenditure on ads like this are not subject to campaign finance rules, and is why the US has many more ads like this than other countries. Candidates essentially get round the rules by using super-pacs to run ads like this, which would be forbidden in other countries.
  • The above rule would also reduce a corporations ability to link corporate donations to passage of specific bills. Corporate entities regularly tell candidates they will give money only if the candidates supports specific measures. This is borderline bribery at best, and occurs in most countries. But the ability to donate huge sums of money through superpacs makes this tactic much more effective in the US.
  • Reverse the law that says "corporations are people too". This gives corporations rights they do not have in other countries. An amendment to the constitution would probably be required for this.
  • Reduce the influence of lobbyists. Most countries have restrictions on those, but they are far fewer in the US.
  • Implement a system forbidding circumstances where a person can go straight from a corporation to elected office, or vica versa. This creates many opportunities for corruption, and is forbidden in many countries.


Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 9 917

This is nearly the answer I'm looking for, but can you demonstrate that these suggestions work? Also, it would be helpful if you could expand on "reduce the influence of lobbyists." What policies would do that? – Publius – 2013-09-30T03:55:13.990

@Avi In politics it's very hard to prove that anything works. The best we can say is that many other countries consider these measures worth it, and have substantially less corporate influence in politics. – DJClayworth – 2013-09-30T14:21:04.217

@user1873 Technically yes. I meant that you could pass an amendment to the constitution that stated explicitly that corporations were not people. – DJClayworth – 2013-09-30T14:27:56.093

Could you link to reports on how these policies worked in other countries then? – Publius – 2013-09-30T16:46:59.273


I think this question should be divided in two parts:

  • What can be done to reduce the corporate influence on election results

  • What can be done to reduce the corporate influence on the government policy

While the first task can to a degree be implemented under Capitalism, the second task requires transition to Socialism as a prerequisite.

So, what can be done to reduce the corporate influence on election results? There are multiple measures that could be implemented to that end.

  • First of all one has to reduce the degree to which paid advertising affects the elections. As advertising requires the party to pay money, the party becomes dependent on the donations of the business. This makes parties more reliant on the help of the business to be more represented in the media. To combat this some countries prohibit parties and politicians from accepting donations for the political campaign, and rather require the campaign funds be limited by the fixed sum provided by the state to each competitor.

  • More alternatives on the elections. In the US one has to choose from only two parties. This is mostly determined by the first-past-the-post electoral system. As such the parties do not experience negative effects of criticism regarding their policy. As both party policies affected by the big business to the same degree and there is no alternative.

  • A more radical measure may be a change from territorial representation to the representation by the working collectives. A system of this kind was briefly implemented in the USSR until 1936: the colleagues elected their deputies from their own ranks, knew them well and the deputies were to return to their collectives after their term expired.

Now, what can be done to reduce corporate influence on the government policy? Actually any big business can blackmail the government even if that government is not aligned with the business. The business can influence the government the following ways:

  • Propose investments conditional on some policy is implemented, a law adopted or repealed, or direct financial support from the government. This may include copyright laws, security laws, property laws, ecological laws and the like, as well as tax exemptions, state guarantees, and direct financial support to the business. The government may decide the promised investments are more beneficial to the state than sticking to the previous policy.

  • Threat to cease operations in case some policies not implemented. This may include for example a treat with bankruptcy in case the government does not support the enterprise. As the bankruptcy of say banks or factories may bring social discontent the government may decide to support the business with state funds.

  • Threat not to supply some goods on which the government is reliant, especially if the company is foreign-based. The company can cease supplying spare parts, weapons, aircraft, power plant equipment or other high-tech production which cannot be easily replaced by another source. Alternatively a company can stop buying some materials produced by the country, such as diamonds.

  • Use advertising, biased press and biased research to affect the public opinion. This most often includes controversies about ecological and quality standards, protectionism and competition. The government may be just influenced by a massive campaign in press and alleged scientific data.

Despite that most of the above is inherent to Capitalism, something still can be done:

  • Outlaw lobbying and other means of direct influence on the government.

  • Strictly investigate the cases of conflict of interest (i.e. when the politicians have financial or carrier interest in certain industries)

  • Prohibit the deputies from participating in big business and require to declare their income and assets. This can be traced to Ancient Rome where senators were prohibited from conducting trade operations.

  • Make available an option to revoke the deputy. The modern territorial election principle makes this difficult to implement. Examples when this worked includes the USSR before 1936 (when the deputies were elected by the colleagues), and England of 18th century (where some parliament members were elected by a small group of voters).


Posted 2013-09-28T09:38:33.630

Reputation: 8 839

It isn't true that Socialism is a prerequisite to reducing influence of corporations. Almost all democracies have less corporate influence in politics than the US. However, otherwise this is a good answer and I would upvote if this sentence were removed. – DJClayworth – 2013-10-18T14:22:13.617

Reduce Regulatory Capture - not socialism - will go a long ways towards reducing business influence on government policy. You mention some of the things that need to be done to do this. – Lindsay Morsillo – 2014-06-13T21:33:54.000

This is almost an excellent answer. If you can substantiate your explanations with some citations, I will accept it. – Publius – 2013-09-30T08:40:27.533

"the second task requires transition to Socialism as a prerequisite." - false. Socialism DID have influence of corporations on government policy (just in a different form). And libertarianism offers a totally distinct way to reduce the influence, so socialism isn't the "only" one. – user4012 – 2013-09-30T13:25:28.100

Also, "propose investments" can only be classified as "blackmail" if you don't understand what either investment OR blackmail means. – user4012 – 2013-09-30T13:26:27.623

"degree to which paid advertising affects the elections" - this was mentioned on another answer as thoroughly debunked. 2x the advertizing dollars are at best 1% shift in vote. All in all, a very long answer with too many incorrectness, so -1 despite it having some correct parts. – user4012 – 2013-09-30T13:27:21.313

1@DVK totally disagree about you assessment of the value of advertising. Here in Russia for example, Yeltsin won election only due to advertising because before his second election campaign his rating was about 6%. Similarly many politicians were made from nothing only by injecting money, such as Navalniy for example. Regarding America, I highly doubt that you can earn anything in a presidential election without having much money. – Anixx – 2013-09-30T14:05:51.363

@Anixx you may disagree with him, but he did reference evidence. If you have contrary evidence of your own, I encourage you to put it in your answer. – Publius – 2013-09-30T16:48:35.500