Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned decades of election spending regulations limiting the use of corporate and union money. Whether you agree with the ruling or not, what’s done is done. There is no overturning the decision until SCOTUS decides to review it again. That will require a change in the makeup of SCOTUS.
That said, let’s look at what I believe to be a major silver lining… the potential for real disclosure. For years, as Congress has passed election reform, corporations and unions have had other ways to influence elections. Whether it be activist groups such as MoveOn.org, single issue groups such as Swift Boat Veterans or trade groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce. In addition to this, companies and unions have been able to give unlimited amount of money to the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. The argument that corporate and union money in the election process has been limited is laughable.
The big problem we have had is the lack of visibility. Let’s take this recent special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat. If you go to the Federal Election Committee to see the campaign contributions, you see the following:
|CANDIDATE NAME||DIST||NET RECEIPTS||NET DISB||CASH||DEBT||THROUGH|
|BEATTY, JEFFREY K||SEN||$88,590||$96,595||$0||$91,450||07/16/2009|
|BROWN, SCOTT P||SEN||$1,220,077||$852,927||$367,150||$53,981||12/31/2009|
|BURR, ROBERT E JR||SEN||$14,695||$5,250||$9,446||$10,000||11/15/2009|
|CAPUANO, MICHAEL E||SEN||$3,358,361||$2,105,103||$1,253,258||$48,281||11/18/2009|
What we don’t see is the money spent on efforts and ads by non-candidates. As a resident of Massachusetts, I can tell you that there was a significant amount of TV ads that were put on by the DNC and US Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, there is no way to quickly see how much is being spent and for what issue or candidate they are trying to build up or tear down. This is how political parties, PACs and other money aggregators have both filled their coffers and assured their political influence. No wonder these parties are in an uproar.
So what now? Well, my co-host on PoliTalk, Jeff Kimball, months ago called for Congress to remove the limits on personal contributions and require immediate and full disclosure on the Internet. The more I thought about this, the more I liked it. I’d like to build on this concept and go further…
Congress should act immediately and do the following:
- Remove the limits on personal campaign contributions.
- Eliminate all non-reported bundling. If an organization shows up overnight with ads, they must immediately disclose to the FEC where EVERY penny comes from and how it is being used BEFORE they can spend a dime.
- Expand the FEC reporting requirement to require any spending by any group on any political campaign issue or candidate.
- Expand the FEC website to include an easy report to see EVERYONE and EVERY ORGANIZATION that spent money and how they used that money on any given campaign.
- Expand the current “ownership” rule that required candidates to appear on the ad saying ” I am so and so and I approved this ad” to include anyone or any organization to do the same. If a person sponsored an ad they would have to appear on it. If an organization sponsored it, their executive director or CEO would have to appear on it with the same disclosure.
The American People are not as sheepish as some would have us to believe. Imagine an attack ad that is sponsored by a major oil company that says candidate X is soft on crime. Now imagine that same ad with the addition of the oil company’s CEO showing up at the end of the ad saying “My name is John Smith, I am the CEO of XYZ Oil Company and I approved this message”. I suggest that this ad will not run very long as soon as shareholders and voters understand who is funding the ad. Putting an actual face on ownership of the ad and message will do wonders to help bring some clarity on who is trying to influence elections.
Tell me your ideas… what would you have Congress do to improve election money visability?