I keep meaning to spend some time gathering up the articles I've been seeing about what we can call, without fear of being hyperbolic, a true threat to our democracy. For the moment, and as a reminder to self, let me just post the beginning of a fine editorial in today's NYT.
But first: For the record, I am strongly sympathetic to the notion that people should be allowed to spend their money, and lots of it, if they wish, to influence the political process. I am also highly dubious about the likelihood that we could design good laws to restrict money flows, even leaving aside the impossibility of getting them passed in the current climate. While in the ideal I'd like nothing finer than 100% publicly-financed campaigns, I think we have to accept that it is a fact of life in America that we will for the foreseeable future spend an insane amount of money on campaigns and issue-mongering.
Therefore, I say, let's concentrate our energy on pushing for complete transparency on who is buying who.
Here is the beginning of the this NYT editorial.
The Secret Election
For all the headlines about the Tea Party and blind voter anger, the most disturbing story of this year’s election is embodied in an odd combination of numbers and letters: 501(c)(4). That is the legal designation for the advocacy committees that are sucking in many millions of anonymous corporate dollars, making this the most secretive election cycle since the Watergate years.
As Michael Luo reported in The Times last week, the battle for Congress is largely being financed by a small corps of wealthy individuals and corporations whose names may never be known to the public. And the full brunt of that spending — most of it going to Republican candidates — has yet to be felt in this campaign.
Corporations got the power to pour anonymous money into elections from Supreme Court and Federal Election Commission decisions in the last two years, culminating in the Citizens United opinion earlier this year. The effect is drastic: In 2004 and 2006, virtually all independent groups receiving electioneering donations revealed their donors. In 2008, less than half of the groups reported their donors, according to a study issued last week by the watchdog group Public Citizen. So far this year, only 32 percent of the groups have done so.
Most of the cash has gone to Republican operatives like Karl Rove who have set up tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations. In theory, these groups, with disingenuously innocuous names like American Crossroads and the American Action Network, are meant to promote social welfare. The value to the political operatives is that they are a funnel for anonymous campaign donations.
Read the rest.
Here's a sidebar graphic from the Michael Luo article linked to above: