Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

Disclosure of Campaign Finances Should Apply “to Everyone Mobilizing and Spending Significant Amounts in An Election.”

Progressive writer Lee Fang recently looked into bias in the disclosure of campaign finances and how it allows big business to obscure the large influence it has on the campaign process. Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporations and corporate-backed non-profits with the legal means to disguise the amount and identity of their spending while unions — the presumed political counter to this inundation of political cash — have to have their donations scrutinized twice; first by the federal Elections Commission and then by the Department of Labor. When pro-corporate front groups such as Americans for Prosperity use their “charitable status” to hide their expenditures, it becomes clear that big business is changing the political system in which we live for the worse. From Fang:

Elections can be bought using a number of tactics that elude traditional campaign disclosure. For instance, as we reported, Americans for Prosperity, a group financed largely by Koch Industries executives Charles and David Koch, bused activists from Illinois into Wisconsin to help canvass and encourage Wisconsin voters to support Walker. Americans for Prosperity provided food and voter lists, and came prepared with a large staff of political operatives to guide these volunteers into battleground areas of the state, with one large effort conducted the weekend before the recall vote.

Though they’ve received the bulk of the attention from the Left in terms of corporate reach into politics, the plague goes far beyond the Koch Brothers:

Other big business fronts, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents big banks and multinational corporations, have large voter turnout efforts that are deployed every election season to get out the vote. According to Cleta Mitchell, a leading Republican attorney advising various corporate fronts, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision gives legal entities like the Chamber and Americans for Prosperity wide leeway to communicate on any issue and engage politically however they see fit — even in terms of pressuring employees, vendors, and customers about elections. However, there is virtually no disclosure when it comes to voter mobilization (and still very few rules on more traditional electioneering, like television, radio and Internet ads).

According to Fang, all get out the vote efforts and the groups behind them should be subject to the same disclosures. If you’re involved in moving people in politics, you should have to reveal how:

Disclosure should apply to everyone mobilizing and spending significant amounts in an election, regardless of ideology. Groups like League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote play an important role in registering voters. But Rock the Vote, for example, has a budget of less than $3 million, while corporate lobby associations like the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers, PHRMA, the Chemistry Council, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Association of Realtors, the Business Roundtable, the American Crossroads network, American Hospital Association, Motion Picture Association, Recording Industry Association, Financial Services Roundtable, American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups that can now spend unlimited amounts in our elections have a combined budget of $3-4 billion, according to our analysis.

The 7-to-1 GOP spending margin in the Wisconsin Recall is startling but not entirely surprising. After all, the Citizens United States is a place we’ve come to better understand, and detest, in the past year and change. It’s a wonder campaign finance reform isn’t yet the biggest topic in all of progressive politics since the loopholes and work-arounds that Fang outlines allow for absolute brutalization of the democratic process. We’re in a Wild Wild West of sorts, where the lawless lot who hold the gold get to tell the miners what to do and when.


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