The Growing Shadow of Political MoneyBy THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times
JAN. 24, 2015
Like bettors checking Las Vegas odds on the Super Bowl, specialists in the nation’s booming campaign finance industry are tracking the action in the 2016 elections, not so much to assess the candidates as to see how much of a payout is likely this time around in the grand casino of American politics.
The record total of $6.3 billion spent on the presidential and congressional elections of 2012 is only the starting point. Estimates of next year’s likely total are running between $7.5 billion and $8 billion. This moneyed universe is certain to keep expanding as the political industry’s managers and their candidates master the unlimited fund-raising and spending devices they now have at hand.The sheer numbers should be enough to raise public alarm. But needed reforms are going nowhere, with too many congressional members busy bolstering their incumbency with the help of the same large-scale donors
. In last year’s elections, the 100 biggest campaign check writers gave $323 million, plus many millions more in anonymous donations to politically active “social welfare” groups and other new money troughs. According to a report by Politico, total spending by the 100 ultra-donors exceeded that of the 4.75 million ordinary Americans who made smaller donations of $200 or less.The risk of special-interest corruption?
Five years ago, when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision dashed decades of sensible controls by equating unlimited corporate and union spending with individual free speech, Justice Anthony Kennedy reassured the nation that full disclosure of donors would be safeguard enough
.He envisioned a world, nonexistent, where disclosure lets citizens “see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
But Congress then killed healthy disclosure requirements, and the way things are working out, with untraceable donations on the rise, it’s more the reverse: a case of moneyed interests moving snugly into the pockets of grateful officials.
Citizens United is just one of the threats to fair campaigning that is posed by runaway money. No less pernicious has been the rise of the nonprofit groups posing as “social welfare” organizations, while in truth they are political machines. This fiction is garnering large donations from players seeking to hide under protections in the tax code. The I.R.S. has timidly retreated from policing this abuse because of Tea Party complaints. The Federal Election Commission, charged with policing campaigns, is even more inert, paralyzed by an enforcement standoff engineered by Republican commissioners.
Antidotes to the politics of toxic money, in the form of a package of reforms, were offered last week to the new Congress. One would rein in the super-PAC cornucopia of big money for candidates pretending to be uninvolved. Another would strengthen ordinary Americans’ political speech by updating the public financing system for presidential elections and creating a badly needed new one for congressional races. A third, delivering on Justice Kennedy’s dream, would mandate full disclosure of large-scale contributions and of the identities of affluent donors now playing politics from the shadows.
But so far, reform of any sort has been no more than a dream. In this unresponsive Congress, it is likely to remain so.http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/opinion/sunday/the-growing-shadow-of-political-money.html?_r=1The three House bills referred to in the editorial are the
~ Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 424)https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/114/hr424
~ Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act (H.R. 425):https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/114/hr425
~ DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 430):https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/114/hr430The bills were introduced in Congress last week.