Monday, March 1, 2010

Playing it where it lays

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
March 1, 2010

By Bill Kraus

All the wailing by almost all the campaign reformers over the Supreme Court’s decision to remove all the bans on campaign spending by almost anyone has obscured a few realities, an objective of campaign finance reform, and a significant opportunity.

Instead of starting the endless and probably fruitless process of overturning the decision by amending the Constitution (does anyone remember the many-year failed attempt to add the relatively harmless ERA to the Constitution sone decades ago?), I suggest a reality check, a rededication to the real objective of all those campaign finance reform ideas that have mostly gone nowhere, and an aggressive exploitation of the very large opportunity that was part and parcel of the FEC v. Citizens United decision.

The reality is that the possibility that this court and probably its successors are going to welcome any kind of regulation of this kind of free speech is dim to non-existent.

This court expanded the freedom of speech to places it’s doubtful the founding fathers ever imagined. But to think that even justices who are more cognizant of the collateral damage that might ensue from this decision will turn against free speech run amok is to believe in fantasies.

A more reasonable idea is to restate the objectives of campaign finance reform. As much as we’d like to get the money and the hired guns out of campaigns, what we really should be focused on is something that is more achievable.


What we now have is an election system where the candidates have to abide by contribution limits and also must disclose the names of people who gave them money. All the non-candidate organizations that get to bash or support those candidates can spend as much as they want without revealing where they get their money. Millionaires who spend their own money are also unrestricted and, incongruously, if Herb Kohl is an example, kind of admired for doing so.

Not fair.

The free-market types will probably opt for taking the limits off for the candidates themselves to level the playing field inasmuch as it’s going to be pretty tough to convince a court that for over a century has said corporations are people and more recently that money is speech, that all the players have to abide by the candidates’ rules. This is a chance the reformers have to take.

My own priority would be to stay out of that thicket and go full speed ahead in the one direction that the Supreme Court has not only permitted but encouraged: disclosure.

No candidate can match a large corporation (or a tribe or a well-heeled union), but all candidates can and should be able to identify and counter-attack whoever is spending money against them.

What we need is a bill that names the funders of any and all campaign activity not just those who contribute to the candidates.

What we also need is an up-front disclosure that matches the candidates’, “My name is John Doe and I approve of this message,” with something like, “The following message was authorized and paid for by XYZ corporation.”

These are the cards that have been dealt. Let’s play them. There isn’t going to be a re-deal.

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