The 2012 election season is just behind us, but before the next one begins, we need to take a serious look at the increasing role that money is playing in influencing political outcomes.
This year official federal-election spending was projected to surpass $5.8-billion, compared with $3.1-billion in 2000. And in the wake of Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that barred the government from restricting the amount of money that corporations could spend on political campaigns, unidentified groups shelled out over $200-million to influence campaigns, with the likely real (unreported) amount several times larger.
The danger in giving money an outsized role in shaping politics is that it has the potential to foster a government that is most responsive to interest groups with access and resources. Hidden and unaccountable political spending is especially worrisome.
Colleges and universities, which control over $400-billion in endowment investments, have a clear and urgent responsibility to ensure that the companies in which they are invested are engaging in political activities that align with colleges' core missions.
As shareholders, colleges have a duty to ensure that profits are not made at the expense of the environment, human rights, democratic accountability, and the larger public good. It is crucial that colleges behave like responsible investors, to model appropriate standards for the students of today—the leaders of tomorrow.