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Billions to buy votes without disclosure is bad policy

To the Editor:

There’s a “For Sale” sign in front of your home, but you didn’t put it there. What’s worse, you may never know who did.

The object of the sale is your mind, and through it, your vote.

Staggering sums of money — in billions, not millions of dollars — will be invested in that purpose this year, in amounts and ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

Most of it will be spent not by the candidates it seeks to elect but by allies pretending to be “independent” of their campaigns. Virtually all of the mind-numbing propaganda it purchases will be negative in nature, deliberately misleading, and sometimes crossing the line into prurient hate.

The sewers through which the money flows, the so-called Super PACS, are often managed by former aides to the candidates who know precisely what the candidates want them to say. Their “independence” is a distinction without a difference, but it is enough to warp the judgment and deaden the consciences of a majority of the Supreme Court.

Some of these committees are required to report where they get and spend the money, but not necessarily in time to let voters know before the election. Others that pretend to be non-political, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, don’t have to reveal anything. There’s no assurance that some of it isn’t foreign money.

Legislation pending in the Senate would require all such organizations, corporations, and labor unions to file a disclosure report with the Federal Elections Commission within 24 hours of receiving or spending $10,000 or more.

There is no reasonable doubt that this would be constitutional, no matter what the wily Mitch McConnell says. Even in the disastrous Citizens United decision, eight justices acknowledged disclosure as a proper antidote to unlimited spending. Justice Antonin Scalia said so on television this week.

“You are entitled to know where the speech is coming from — you know, information as to who contributed what,” Scalia said.

But the Republicans in the U.S. Senate don’t think so. They’re blocking a vote. Even John McCain’s halo went missing on this issue.

Republicans didn’t always think that way. 

“We believe that every senator should embrace the Disclosure Act of 2012,” two former senators wrote in a New York Times op-ed article. “This legislation treats trade unions and corporations equally and gives neither party an advantage. It is good for Republicans and it is good for Democrats. Most important, it is good for the American people.”

The former senators are Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. They are Republicans.

Martin A. Dyckman


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