Monday, July 30, 2012

Politics:  The Disclose Act Won't Fix Campaign Finance

... only 0.26% of Americans give more than $200 to congressional campaigns.
0.000063% of Americans —- fewer than 200 of the country's 310 million residents —- have contributed 80% of all super-PAC donations.
Last week, Senate Democrats took another run at blunting the influence of Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permits unlimited contributions to independent political committees. The lawmakers voted for the Disclose Act, which would have required groups making more than $10,000 in campaign- related expenditures to disclose contributors who had donated more than $10,000. No longer would information about election spending be limited to, "This ad paid for by Americans United for a More American America."

They failed. Senate Republicans successfully filibustered the legislation. But even if the Democrats had succeeded, the Disclose Act would not have gone nearly far enough.

The power of super-PACs is not restricted to their ability to buy airtime for television ads. That's what attracts all the news coverage, but the more insidious function of super-PACs may be influencing legislation before a single dollar is spent —- by threatening to buy future airtime.

Imagine the oil industry wants a small, technical change in a law setting environmental standards. It's an issue few voters are following, or will even hear about. But it's worth billions of dollars to the industry. So oil companies establish a super- PAC and send lobbyists to every congressional office with a simple message: Legislators who support the change will receive a donation, and each legislator who votes against it will be subject to $1 million in super-PAC attack ads in their district in the last week of the campaign.

The real culprit is arguably the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court held that political money is tantamount to political speech. As a result, Congress can't limit spending by campaigns. Citizens United and related court decisions made it harder to regulate spending by outside groups, which further eroded the legitimacy of the system. It is all but impossible to break politicians' dependence on big funders so long as their opponents can benefit from moneyed interests spending unlimited amounts of cash on an election.

For more, see The Disclose Act Won't Fix Campaign Finance by Ezra Klein, July 27, 2012 at Wonkblog.

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