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Campaign Finance, Sustainability, and Goods Unite Us: A Call to Action

Money and financial forces can seem to work in mysterious ways. Sometimes it’s happening right in front of our eyes with the direct exchange of cash for goods. Other times there’s an untraceable ripple effect and boardroom deals we’re not privy to, that determine our future. One mechanism that links everyday consumers to the decision makers at the top, is campaign finance. But what is campaign finance and why is it a problem? How does it relate to sustainability? And what can students do about it?


What is campaign finance? 

Campaigns are expensive and they all require financing. To reach voters, politicians need to get exposure on significant platforms (usually more than once) to get their message across. This is why most of the money raised in campaigns goes to advertising and canvassing. Campaign finance is the financing of electoral campaigns and occurs at the federal, state, and local level. Regulations vary by country, dictating who can donate, how much, and degrees of transparency. Donations come from individuals, corporations or political action committees and have a significant impact on election outcomes and in-office performance.


The reality of campaign finance is that political candidates have to regard not just voting behaviour but donation behaviour too. And in the extreme presence of corporate donations, as is seen in the U.S., this means that donors are often more important to politicians than the voters themselves!! Without funding there is no campaign, without a campaign there are no votes. This creates a bizarre split screen effect where politicians have an overbearing consideration for their donors instead of solely considering their beneficiaries. It ends up diminishing the power of everyday voters and the citizens the candidates go on to swear to represent. Understanding your country’s campaign finance climate is the ultimate crossover between financial and political literacy - the two most powerful inroads to generating change!




How does campaign finance impact sustainability?

When it comes to issues like sustainability, or almost any global issue, it would be naive to think that all countries have a) an equal stake in the issues and b) equal decision-making power. Some voices are louder and have a stronger influence than others on the global stage. The U.S. is one of the largest markets in the world, and U.S citizens have one of the largest impacts on the world per capita. The U.S. GDP accounts for about a quarter of the world’s economy and their position on the international stage (given that the USD is the world’s reserve currency) gives the nation outsized political influence in global affairs. The influence of corporate money in U.S. politics clearly does not stay within the country. 


On matters like climate policy, international investment, and trade agreements the U.S.’ political establishment wields significant influence in shaping global response. This influence extends to treaties, regulations, international agencies, subsidies, diplomacy, and various other channels. That is to say, if you want to have an effect on issues of global importance, having a say in U.S. politics is a good way to do that. This is true for corporations trying to navigate carbon tax, labour laws, human rights issues in their supply chains, or deferring the green energy transition but it is also true for activists, environmentalists, sustainable development professionals, and students who wish to change the future for the better.


There remains opportunity. Since interconnected networks make economics strangely similar to ecology, the flow of capital (money) works much like the flow of nutrients in a food web. Unlike voters, donors don’t have to be from the politician’s district. So on a national scale, a business from California can flood money into a congressional campaign in Texas and vice versa. But on an international scale, this means the customers of the California company in Sri Lanka, or Barbados, or Denmark, can use their leverage over the firm to alter its campaign contributions or stop them entirely. People from all over the world that shop at a major brand can use their spending power to influence that brand’s donor behaviour in economic powerhouses like the U.S. 


Campaign finance is nothing without a source of capital.




Fighting back: who are Goods Unite Us?

Goods Unite Us is a start-up founded in 2017 by two lawyers who wanted to fight back against corporate money in politics. As lawyers, the co-founders recognised that U.S. institutional reform was a way off and saw the potential for collective citizen action. It has been almost 15 years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which controversially reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other non-political stakeholders to spend unlimited funds on elections. Goods Unite Us saw that this decision was here for the long haul, and set about generating change from the bottom up, using the tools available for positive impact. The company mission is to empower everyday people to become political consumers and investors so that united action can shift the power back into the hands of consumers, and get corporate money out of politics. 


Corporations make profit from our shopping habits, and politicians are funded by corporate profits. That’s your money in there! Goods Unite Us’ work provides a free database for consumers to search for a brand and see its politics. The analysis team has spent thousands of hours vetting companies’ political expenditures in federal elections. Using their database, you can get the low down on major brands you shop with. You can learn their size of donation, whether it comes from senior employees or the organisation, the top 5 candidates donated to, and their own rating system of a Campaign Finance Reform Score. With this knowledge they hope to empower everyday people to vote with their wallet and invest with their values. To use financial and political literacy to wield consumer power for the good of humanity.



What can students do about campaign finance?

Speaking to Brian Potts, co-founder and board member of Goods Unite Us, he feels the most important thing students need to understand about campaign finance is the scale of power and sphere of influence. Just as politicians yield significant power with campaign finance behind them, every day people also hold great power through the collective action of reclaiming their spending power.


So what does student action look like for campaign finance? Upstream of U.S. legislation and nominated diplomats are American elected officials who need money to get elected. They get that money from American companies or individuals who derive their wealth from those companies. As described earlier, bottom-up influence can come from all over the world - anyone that shops with a U.S brand can have an impact. One immediate way you can make a difference is by downloading the Goods Unite Us app (for free) and paying attention to where your money is going to wield your influence. You can search by brands and follow the relationship they have with campaign finance and adjust your consumer behaviour accordingly. Perhaps consider some of the financial activist tools such as boycott, divest, invest to ensure that your hard earned cents are being spent with companies that align with your values.

To learn more about campaign finance and opportunities to support the development of the cause, follow and interact with Goods Unite Us on all the usual social platforms (IG, X, TikTok, Linkedin) or even subscribe to their emailing list to get the knowledge direct to your inbox. We all hold power somewhere, it’s our responsibility to find it and use it for good.


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Sustainability For Students would like to say a huge thank you to Brian Potts and Ian Woods from Goods Unite Us for collaborating with us on this article. The work at Goods Unite Us is changing modern activism and an exciting start-up in the impact space.


Disclaimer: Content is for informational and educational purposes only. This is not financial or investment advice.


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