Monday, June 25, 2012

Electioneering Communications - Center for Responsive Politics

The US Supreme Court re-affirmed Citizens United today in traditional 5-4 partisanship fashion. The case was American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, which is more commonly known as the Montana case.

I, for one, do not have a knee-jerk reaction against Citizens United. I believe that corporations and industries have legitimate interests too, and sometimes collectively representing those interests through Political Action Committees (PACs) makes more sense than doing so by organizing a non-profit; especially when the campaign is only temporary and trying to elicit grassroots support. Regulations around non-profits since Sarbanes Oxley make it impractical to use non-profits as a conduit. The regulations around non-profits are too high (for good reason). Either way, corporate and labor dollars are going to find a way into the system.  If the Renewable Energy industry wanted to temporarily get together to run ads to extend the tax credit program before the end of the year, would PACs face so much opposition?  It is possible, though, to take this logic too far.

Time for an analogy: When the Republicans occupy the White House, which party complains about the deficit? The Democrats. When the Democrats occupy the White House, which party complains about the deficit? The Republicans. In truth, neither political party is opposed to deficit spending. Both parties use it as a smokescreen for opposition when they actually oppose the underlying policy position. They are a lot of issues where the side of the issue that people are on depends on whether your side or the other side is benefiting. That's the nature of a two-party system. 

At the moment, Republicans are benefiting from Citizens United and thus there is Democratic opposition. Weary that this could flip in the future, there are some brains in the Republican party predicting support for the DISCLOSE ACT - that would force PACs to disclose their donors - after the 2012 elections. I believe that this would be a good step for transparency. To sign the petition for support, click here. Why should political campaigns have to disclose their donors, but PACs who spend on their behalf - but they do not "coordinate" because that would be illegal - not have to? There's an argument for consistency.

I have a simple solution to this too much money in politics: Return PACs to issues ads. According to current Electioneering Communications law, PACs can name candidates and They can contain words of "express advocacy," which include "vote for," "vote against," "elect," "defeat," "support" and "oppose." Without this provision, they could no longer run negative attacks against individual candidates or political parties. Therefore, a simple regulation definition change on what is acceptable Electioneering Communication by a non-campaign would significantly clean up our airwaves. Let the Oil and Gas industry run ads that support offshore drilling, but not ads supporting the candidate who supports offshore drilling. If you can convince the American people that you are right through positive ads, then that's just fine by me.

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