The Election and Corporate Governance: The Role of Citizens United

The reelection of Barak Obama has a number of explanations that are best left to the pundits and sages to point out.  Corporate governance, however, played a small but potentially important role.

How was that the case?  The answer is Citizens United.  Put aside the unleashing of contributions as a result of the decision.  Right or wrong, the decision was perceived as permitting corporations to have a more accentuated influence during the election cycle.  The Supreme Court indicated that corporate contributions were a matter between companies and shareholders and expressly approved of disclosure regimes designed to inform shareholders and the public of these contributions.  Despite efforts in Congress, however, no such disclosure regime was put in place.

Thus, the election cycle occurred with few meaningful limits on corporate contributions.  As a result, the issue of corporate contributions became part of the debate.  With Governor Romney having strong roots in the corporate world, the debate likely increased voter focus on this fact.  Moreover, the debate engendered by Citizens United was likely responsible for the much repeated statement by Governor Romney that "corporations are people, my friend."  The phrase made its way into campaign commercials, was the subject of a spoof in an ad sponsored by the Colbert Super Pac, and came up constantly in the campaign. 

Exit polls showed that a majority of voters perceived Governor Romney as supporting policies that favored the wealthy.  Whatever the merits of the perception, candidates for national office probably prefer to be perceived as supporting policies that favor the middle class.  The Citizens United debate and statements like "corporations are people, my friend" probably in the end made the middle class orientation a more difficult perception for Governor Romney to achieve.   

J Robert Brown Jr.