Inching closer to the light after Citizens United?

In writing for the majority on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, Justice Kennedy hit several times on the idea of disclosure as a balancing factor to opening the ceiling on corporate elections donations.

If voters know who’s financing candidates and ballot initiatives, the logic goes, then the prejudicial effects of whatever they’re financing will be diminished. Modern technology, Justice Kennedy wrote, “makes disclosures rapid and informative.”

Somehow, following the ruling, Congress took little note of the window the Supreme Court opened in affirming disclosure requirements in campaign spending.

Luckily, the Internet, America’s shadow democracy, stepped in to model transparency and disclosure possibilities.

Here are a few of note for voters, teachers, and students heading into the final countdown of this election season.

The Sunlight Foundation has a host of tools and apps for investigating elections funding, the activity of Congress, and the movements of state legislatures.

One of my personal favorites is Checking Influence which “shows you how companies you do business with every day are wielding political influence.”

Voter’s Edge is designed to throw light on the funding of ballot initiatives. As of this posting, VE has information on initiatives in CO, CA, and FL. Clicking through, viewers are able to track who is funding efforts for and against the initiatives, the effects of the initiatives’ passage and contact information for major supporters or opponents of initiatives.

One of my first tools for investigating my options as a voter, Project Vote Smart has only improved over the years as it’s harnessed the power and possibility of the Internet. Billing itself as the “voter’s self-defense system,” Vote Smart includes candidates and initiatives at the state and federal level.

A quick search of my address revealed my state rep, her challengers and their records. For incumbents, this includes voting records, while all candidates’ recent public statements as well as campaign finance information can be reviewed through the site.

Finally, a direct connection to campaign finance is FollowTheMoney.org from The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Through this site, readers can track financial influence across state elections and more completely understand the flow of cash through candidates’ coffers. After the electorate-useful information, my favorite feature of FTM is its meta-disclosure, “Where do we get our money?

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Things I Know 283 of 365: Financial literacy is digital too

It’s never too early to teach kids about properly managing their money.

Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of Experian Consumer Direct

I spent a bit of time this evening checking out the Secret Millionaires Club. The site from Warren Buffett is designed to help kids build financial literacy and provide parents and teachers with resources for building those skills. The few cartoons I watched kept my attention and embedded their message in an easily-understood manner. If I were bringing up a kid or teaching basic personal finance in 2005, I’d definitely use the site.

***

The other day, I walked in to my local coffee shop for a muffin and a coffee. The sign hanging from the register alerted my fellow patrons and I we could only pay with cash. Through some mixup with the phone system, the line was dead and credit card purchases couldn’t be processed.

I had no cash.

I still managed to get my muffin and coffee with no cash changing hands. I didn’t even have to wash dishes.

I pulled out my phone, opened my LevelUp app and the store’s cell phone snapped a pic of my personalized QR code. Seconds later, I received a text with my digital receipt (preset tip included). Later, I found a matching e-mail for my records. Each time I spend $60 at the shop, I earn a $6 credit.

***

A few weeks ago, I was at dinner with some friends and learned about Venmo. Users set up an account and are able to network payments to friends. The idea here is making it easier to move money back and forth when you split a check over anything. If you carry a balance from friends when you picked up the check, that’s the money (not your linked account) that gets moved to friends. The service is almost an intermediary bank.

***

This is to say nothing of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s customer-side service attached to his latest venture – Square. Enabled on iPhones and Android phones, the app knows when you enter a Square-enabled establishment and opens a tab when you walk in the door. According to Square’s website, “Give the cashier your name at checkout. Pay without touching your phone or wallet.”

***

Time was, a financial literacy curriculum could be considered forward-thinking if it gave passing mention to PayPal. PayPal is old news now. What counts as money and how people interact with it are shifting concepts. While each of the services I’ve mentioned here purport and appear to be safer and more trustworthy than a credit card, I have much to learn before I can know that for certain.

What’s more, all of these are shifts to the foundation of financial literacy missing from Buffett’s lessons. I know my grandparents will never dream of signing up for any of these services. For any child born in the last 5 years, though, a wallet will likely be something on whatever turns out to be the equivalent of a cell phone. (Cows and whatever animal we get velcro from can breathe a sigh of relief.)

With recent signs pointing to the idea people had no idea what they were doing operating under the “business as usual” model, perhaps we should get head start on teaching kids about “business as unusual.”

Things I Know 235 of 365: Bank of America might be losing my business

The lower- to middle-income groups will be most affected due not only to the fee but the higher minimum balances required to avoid the fees.

John Kottmeyer

Adjunct professor at Samford University’s Brock School of Business

I’ve been a Bank of America customer since 2003, but that might be changing. It’s not me Bank of America should worry about; it’s all of my options.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for mint.com as a way to manage my money while I’m here at school. Mint, along with its free iPhone app, helps me keep track of my spending and sends me alerts when it notices increased spending in a specific area or I com close to exceeding my budgeted amount.

As part of mint’s services, I was also given recommendations for banking and credit options that would save me money in the long-run compared to my current accounts.

Because BoA has branches or ATMs in almost any location I travel, I skipped the recommendation window and carried on with my budgeting.

Today, a change.org alert arrived in my inbox.

Seems my bank is going to start charging me a monthly fee for using my debit card. Admittedly, $5/month isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but the fee runs contrary to my principles and shows a lack of technological trend understanding on the part of the bank.

According to the BBC, BoA received $20 billion in the banking bailout as well as $18 billion in guarantees against bad assets. I don’t know the exact math, but I’m guessing my portion of that bailout more than covers my $5/mo. fees for the rest of my natural life.

This is to say nothing of the fact that charging new loophole fees in the face of federal regulations designed to stop banks from charging predatory fees is bad PR. Charging businesses for running credit/debit transactions as well as customers for using debit cards makes it easy to paint BoA as greedy, uncaring and unscrupulous. I don’t know that this is the case, but the new fee doesn’t make it difficult to connect the dots.

Ethics and PR aside, the fee has me worried that BoA has no eye on the future of transactions. In five years (as a generous estimate) my debit card won’t exist. My transactions, whether they take place in a physical or virtual space, will happen through my phone. My personal QR code or whatever comes after QR codes will be my method of payment. My wallet will be where I carry my license and maybe a business card. Companies like levelup and Starbucks are already setting the stage for the transition.

Creating a fee scheme around a card destined for extinction is shortsighted and a waste of corporate momentum.

In a pre-digital world, such a move made sense. I needed to travel to a physical space to shut down my account and then another physical space to open a new account. My bank can be virtual. BoA can lose my business without my ever having to talk to another human being. Of course, I will talk to human beings, namely my friends and family as I share why I made the change, how easy it was and how much I’m projected to save over the next three years.

For now, my money is staying put and my accounts are open.

I’ve added my name to the change.org petition and I’m hopeful the right people at BoA are checking their e-mail. If not, my new bank is only a few clicks away.

I’ll let you know.