The response to people worried about the Supreme Court’s cataclysmic decision to lift any limits on political spending by corporations has been that we can be saved by transparency. That’s what the majority argued in their decision, and that argument has been taken up by conservatives who think that more corporate influence on the work of government is a good thing. But transparency involves only corporations documenting how much they spend, and money that goes unspent is really the crux of the matter.
Corporations have powerful levers to pull without spending a dime, given that they have the opportunity to spend as much as they like. First of all, they can threaten to withhold contributions they might otherwise make unless a legislator does their bidding. Secondly, they can threaten to spend on behalf of a politician’s opponent unless they get their way. Neither of those threats must be reported in any way. And, in many cases, the threats do not even need to be made. Politicians know what corporations want, and they now know that they can spend whatever they like to get it. Does a lobbyist for a coal company really need to call a legislator and tell them not to vote to ban mountaintop removal mining?
So we are now in a situation where the influence of corporations has been magnified to an incredible degree even before the first dollar is spent. And no amount of transparency is going to fix that.