My Name is Glenn Gaudet and I Approved This Blog Post

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
Massachusetts
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
CHASE, KEN SEN $450 $761 $0 $0 06/30/2009
COAKLEY, MARTHA SEN $5,236,955 $4,294,566 $937,383 $169,092 12/31/2009

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:

  1. Remove the limits on personal campaign contributions.
  2. 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.
  3. Expand the FEC reporting requirement to require any spending by any group on any political campaign issue or candidate.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

-Glenn

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7 responses to “My Name is Glenn Gaudet and I Approved This Blog Post

  1. Glenn – which do you think has a more negative impact on the process in general?

    1. No limits on contributions?
    2. Not knowing where the money comes from?

    No limits start to favor the rich doesn’t it? While I love my mayor, Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on his elections.

    I think the not knowing part is more negative. I argue “the motive matters”

    Arguments do become more or less credible based on who delivers them and how they are delivered. I think it would be difficult to require organizations to disclose funding sources, but to compel the exec director to be named and take ownership of the message would go far.

    The real question is, how does the electorate get their information and make their decisions from information other than the TV? Could there be a website or other information source that objectively gave analysis on issues so we could rely on facts rather than be swayed by ads?

  2. By far I believe that the latter is worse… Not knowing where the money comes from allows people and organizations to mask source money and therefore not show true intent especially at the time of an ad. Having the media report after the fact is not as effective as defining the funder at the time of the ad.

  3. “Expand the FEC reporting requirement to require any spending by any group on any political campaign issue or candidate.

    Glenn,
    The big issue I see here is ambiguity in what exactly constitutes a “political campaign issue.” The only options to resolve such ambiguity are a) a ridiculously verbose description in the law, b) write the law such that a FEC panel determines what political issues are for a given period of time, or c) define it loosely and let the federal court system sort it out.

    In any case, if the goal of the ruling is to remove the limitation on corporations to have their freedom of expression (can inanimate entities have rights to freedom of expression??), then wouldn’t the red tape of having to report every little penny be nearly as much of a deterrent to political speech by organizations?

    I just wonder if the results defy the stated motivation behind the Supreme Court’s ruling.

  4. I think you raise a valid point about the complexities of such a reporting system. However, I am confident that such a system can be created and made to be bearable.

    I address your comment about inanimate entities having rights to freedom of expression in our last show… http://tinyurl.com/yjon6pv
    In summary, I think it is a slippery slope to empower non-voting eligible entities to have unlimited contribution ability while and actual voter has a limit of $2,400. This makes no sense to me.

    My idea may very well be a pain in the a$$ for organizations. However, the need for sunlight in our elections has never been more critical to maintaining a free republic.

  5. Thanks for the response Glenn,
    I just got the opportunity to listen to that episode, and I think I agree that only registered voters should be able to contribute to campaigns.

    That’s a minefield too, of course, given the inevitable uproar that would rise among illegal aliens if suddenly they weren’t able to spend money on candidates that support their agenda… It sure would be better than the status quo.

  6. Just to be clear about my position… I referred to “non-voting eligible entities”. That is not to say that I would limit contributions to registered voters, but I like the idea of limiting it to voting-eligible entities. In other words, companies and groups cannot vote. Therefore, they should not contribute. However, if a group wants to influence its membership, should they be able to say to its membership… contribute to xyz candidate, because we like them? It seems that the campaign finance issue is not without complexities.

  7. Oh, and thanks for listening to the show!

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