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Campaign Finance Reform Is Good for Businesses | Commentary

There are members of Congress who believe money doesn’t influence their votes — which to me, sounds like Stockholm syndrome. Our politicians have become so enamored with their campaign cash, they have stopped understanding how the money has taken them hostage. They no longer see the reality of their situation.

Special interests spend money in elections to influence policy that in turn influences the size of their bottom line.

The federal government spent more than $460 billion on private sector contracts in 2013. But a recent Public Citizen report found only 27 percent of top contractors disclose any of their political spending.

Recently, a federal appeals court upheld a 75-year-old ban on federal contractors directly giving to federal candidates or political parties.

A few weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee approved a provision that would protect federal contractors from government action. The provision would prevent the executive branch from increasing transparency in political spending and allow contracted businesses to keep circumventing the ban by giving contributions to dark money groups that don’t have to say where their money comes from.

The idea that freedom of speech means freedom of secret political spending is totally opposed to the philosophy of the founding fathers who agreed to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” when they followed John Hancock and signed their names.

Earlier this year, we read the story of a Florida businessman, who is in the running for a $10 billion contract from the U.S. Coast Guard, who hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The reason: Rubio is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard. That makes Rubio’s recommendation a major factor in the Coast Guard’s decision.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is still under indictment for leveraging his administration connections to help a wealthy donor prevent the use of federal shipping container equipment inspection — because it would compete with the donor’s own company.

We should not have to wait for a grand jury indictment or for investigative journalists to reveal how federal contractors get money to politicians. It’s not a fair business practice for companies that have refused to abide by this pay-to-play culture and it’s not fair to keep the public to be kept in the dark about where their tax dollars are going.

I have spent 30-plus years working in the financial sector, making a lot of money for investors, and enough for myself to support my family very well. Every place I’ve worked has emphasized that merit is how to get ahead of your competition. Somehow in the world of government contracts, it really is “who you know.”

Now, I am the chairman of a group called Patriotic Millionaires, a group of hundreds of millionaires who all believe the current levels of political and economic inequality are slowly destroying the country we love. The inequalities feed on each other — wealthy donors and corporations spend money to increase their political power and spend political power to garner additional financial advantage. We believe that a level playing field for Americans of all income brackets is better for the economy and democracy.

And we’re not the only ones who see the connection. A recent poll of business leaders by the Committee for Economic Development of the Conference Board found 89 percent support increasing transparency of political contributions.

The federal contractor system shouldn’t be about getting a return on investments in politics; it should be about getting a return on investments that ultimately serve the taxpayers.

While President Barack Obama continues to delay signing an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose every penny they spend in our elections, Congress should strip out provisions in the House Appropriations bill that would protect federal contractors’ dark money. With some of these individual contracts totaling billions of dollars, we should be assured our tax dollars are going to the right business with the right qualifications, not the business that contributed the most money to the chair of the right subcommittee.

A White House executive order would shine a light on dark money in politics and would help clean up the entire federal contractor system. And would increase transparency in 70 percent of the top Fortune 100 businesses in the world. Congress should be encouraging transparency in government not supporting efforts to keep their constituents in the dark.

By removing the option for the president to improve campaign disclosure laws, Congress will hurt the longevity of the federal contractor system.

We need to fix the federal contractor system to make it more sustainable. To help businesses grow, not make them feel obligated to spend more money as the costs of elections continue to rise.

With the 2016 election rapidly approaching, both Congress and the president must decide what their legacy will be on campaign finance. Will they sit idly and let money drown out the voices of the American public, or will they see through their Stockholm-esque delusion that money doesn’t matter and get to work?

Morris Pearl is the chairman of Patriotic Millionaires and former managing director of Black Rock, the world’s largest asset management firm.