Give voters financial flowchart
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.