By every account, the 2012 election will be the most expensive in history, potentially dwarfing the $5 billion spent in the last presidential cycle. What many Americans don't yet know is that it won't just be the candidates themselves shopping for dollars, but independent political groups that can accept unlimited, secret donations from corporations or unions.
These contributions, made possible by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, are bad for our democracy -- but they're also bad for our fragile economy. If companies capitulate to the pressure to play politics, they'll be diverting corporate resources away from hiring and innovation at the worst possible time: a deep and possibly double-dip recession.
Already in the 2010 campaign cycle, an estimated $500-$600 million was spent on the independent groups that act as proxies for presidential and congressional campaigns. And a significant portion of those dollars were undisclosed.
It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to accept the possibility that those numbers might double in 2012. The increased political demand on companies will require siphoning unbudgeted resources from someplace else. With companies already reluctant to hire because of the economic climate, added strain on internal budgets will only make the hiring situation worse.
Simply put, the next campaign will clearly be about the unemployment rate, but the campaigns themselves may end up costing us jobs.
There is a popular, yet false, perception that this is all by design, that the political world and corporate America are joined at the hip: a silent partnership at best and a Hollywood conspiracy at worst.
This week, corporate America had one word for that perception: hogwash.
The Committee for Economic Development, the public policy voice of the business sector, released a series of reports outlining the crisis of unlimited and secret political spending and launched a campaign calling for the business community to take the lead in ending the crisis.
The most important message to corporations is: Don't Give; But If You Do, Disclose.
Anyone who's perused the underbelly of the Internet knows that just because something is declared constitutional, that doesn't make it good for the nation. The same axiom applies to unlimited and secret donations: these contributions may be constitutional, but they undermine our democracy and our economy.
That's why we are asking the biggest corporations and the smallest start-ups not to expend corporate resources on "independent" political groups. And if they succumb to the pressure of giving, we are urging them to make those contributions public to shareholders and boards.
If we don't take the political pressure off corporate America, then corporate America may not be able to take the pressure off of the unemployment crisis. This is a catastrophe in the making that must be stopped.