Give vot­ers fi­nan­cial flow­chart

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

All of us — Democrats, Repub­li­cans, oth­ers — wound up as losers this week when the U.S. Se­nate could not move for­ward on a cam­paign fi­nance re­form bill sorely needed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 rul­ing in Jan­uary free­ing cor­po­ra­tions and unions to pour un­lim­ited money into po­lit­i­cal ads.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact of the de­ci­sion, the high court’s re­gret­table de­ci­sion in Cit­i­zens United v. Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in­cluded a nudge for Congress to en­act laws man­dat­ing in­creased dis­clo­sure of the source of such fund­ing.

The pro­posed mea­sure that fell short of the 60 Se­nate votes needed to move for­ward on it in­cluded a laud­able dose of dis­clo­sure but was weighed down by un­nec­es­sary pro­vi­sions that helped spell its doom — at least for now and prob­a­bly un­til af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tions — in the face of op­po­si­tion from all Repub­li­can sen­a­tors.

We be­lieve there is plenty of good that can be sal­vaged in this mea­sure by strip­ping out some of the bad. Sen. Su­san Collins, a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can from Maine, ac­cu­rately com­plained that the mea­sure in­cluded sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages for some groups. Ma­jor spe­cial-in­ter­est groups, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and la­bor unions, would have been ex­empt from some re­port­ing re­quire­ments.

Sev­eral other pro­vi­sions in the bill raise ques­tions, in­clud­ing pro­posed bans on po­lit­i­cal ads paid for by ma­jor govern­ment contractors and busi­nesses that take fed­eral bailouts. We’re for the ban on ben­e­fi­cia­ries of bailouts. They shouldn’t be us­ing our tax dol­lars to sup­port their pol­i­tics. But it’s not fair to bar ma­jor govern­ment contractors, who pro­vide goods and ser­vices in ex­change for the tax dol­lars they get, from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the po­lit­i­cal process in the same way that other cor­po­ra­tions do.

An­other pro­vi­sion strikes us as some­what silly. In its lat­est in­car­na­tion, the bill would have man­dated that chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers ap­pear at the end of po­lit­i­cal ads paid for by their firms. This would be like the “I’m (can­di­date name here) and I ap­proved this ad” tagline that has be­come ubiq­ui­tous and non­sen­si­cal on cam­paign ads.

As long as we have to live un­der the po­ten­tially odi­ous Supreme Court rul­ing that in­jects more cor­po­rate and union money into pol­i­tics, Amer­i­cans are en­ti­tled to full dis­clo­sure of how that money flows, and the cor­po­ra­tions and unions are en­ti­tled to eq­ui­table treat­ment. We are all en­ti­tled to it in time for the up­com­ing Novem­ber elec­tions that could change the bal­ance of power in Washington.

“A vote to op­pose these re­forms is noth­ing less than a vote to al­low cor­po­rate and spe­cial in­ter­est takeovers of our elec­tions,” Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said as the bill foundered. “It is dam­ag­ing to our democ­racy.”

The Supreme Court rul­ing in the Cit­i­zens United case was dam­ag­ing to our democ­racy. It’s now up to Congress to limit the dam­age, or at least make sure it’s done in a trans­par­ent way.

It’s fair to sus­pect that some of the GOP op­po­si­tion might re­sult more from over­all op­po­si­tion to dis­clo­sure than from any of the spe­cific pro­vi­sions in the bill. Democrats can call the Repub­li­cans’ bluff by strip­ping out some of those pro­vi­sions to see whether GOP sen­a­tors have the courage to vote against dis­clo­sure.

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