Monday, July 23, 2012

Perpetual Aftermath of Citizens United Ruling (The Ruling that Won't Go Away)

Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator for Rhode Island (Photo credit: Sheldon Whitehouse)
The N.Y. Times editorial below sheds more light on the affects of the Citizens United Ruling. However, unfortunately, the editorial points the blame on the Republicans. Both the Democrats and Republicans have their fair share of super donors and Super PACs; and don't forget that in 2008, for example, Obama out spent McCain $800 million to $333 million.

Financial transparency is critical to a healthy democracy. Yet by the same token it is not a panacea. In the case of Alberta's provincial and municipal electoral systems, there is financial transparency, and yet these systems produce consistently severe financial contribution bias to particular parties and candidates, financial irregularities that are ignored at the municipal level, and contributions from single sources to more than one party and candidate (commonly called hedging).

Financial transparency requires enforcement and laws and regulations such as reasonable caps and expenditure limits which make election finances about the people and not minority and special interests. See the FDA report on the Canadian Provinces which shows Canadian provinces with model electoral finance legislation and provinces with systematically corrupt legislation.

Facts on the U.S. Senate as pertaining to the Disclose Act:

There are 100 U.S. Senate seats. Presently, the Democrats have 51 seats, Republicans 47 seats, and independents 2 seats. The vote to overcome the filibuster blocking the Disclose Act was 53 in favor, and 45 against. 60 votes in favor are required to end the filibuster. Based on the vote, 3 Senators did not vote; assuming that all Democrats and 2 independents voted in favor, then all Republican voted against short of those that abstained.

The issue of the Act is privacy (of donor) versus an informed public. Presently, U.S. federal candidates, candidate committees, and political parties are required to disclose their finances.

As an example from the 2012 FDA Report on the U.S. Federal Electoral System (soon to be published):

In an election year, presidential candidates are required to report monthly when contributions aggregate $100,000 or expenditures aggregate $100,000 or anticipate the aggregations during the calendar year. In addition, the presidential candidates generally are required to submit pre-election reports, post-election reports, and year end reports. The reports must contain designations, record of contributors and disbursements, statements (Federal Election Campaign Act, Articles 434 2(A), 3 (A)).

In non-election years, political committees are required to submit quarterly financial reports. These reports must contain all designations, statements, record of disbursements, reports, including name and address of contributors in excess of $50 and identification of any person who contributes in excess of $200 (Federal Election Campaign Act, Articles 432, 434 2(B)).

So the Disclose Act applies to Super PACs. As noted above, electoral finance transparency though a step in the right direction does not in itself eliminate the influence of minority and special money interests. See the FDA Canadian Provinces Report which shows why.

Sheldon Whitehouse's July 17, 2012 Statement on the failed Disclose Act:

Washington, DC – Today, for a second day in a row, Senate Republicans blocked debate on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to end secret spending in elections by corporations and other groups. The vote failed to overcome a filibuster by a vote of 53 in favor to 45 against. 60 votes were required. Following the vote, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released the following statement:

“I’m disappointed that so many of my Republican colleagues, many of whom have clearly supported disclosure in the past, chose today to once again defend secret spending by special interests rather than stand up for the voices of the middle class. However, I’m also optimistic that ultimately, we will pass this bill, or something like it, to end secret spending and defend the voices of the middle class.

“I’m optimistic because throughout this debate, the American people made their voices heard loud and clear: they support the DISCLOSE Act, and they detest the secret spending that is poisoning our elections. Through phone calls, emails, online petitions, tweets, and more, people in Rhode Island and across the country joined Senate Democrats in shining a bright light on this issue and demonstrating a groundswell of popular support.

“As I have said many times, I am cognizant of the fact that not every fight is won in the first round, or even the second or third round. But ultimately, history has shown that the will of the people always shines through.

“In these past few days, the American people have helped us land some resounding blows against the special interests, and I am left more confident than ever that, ultimately, their voices will be heard. And I intend to keep up the fight to make sure that they are.”

The Power of Anonymity
By N.Y. Times Editorial

Two years ago, Congress came within a single Republican vote in the Senate of following the Supreme Court’s advice to require broad disclosure of campaign finance donors. The justices wanted voters to be able to decide for themselves “whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

The court advised such disclosure in its otherwise disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, which loosed a new wave of unlimited spending on political campaigns. The decision’s anticorruption prescription has grown even more compelling as hundreds of millions of dollars in disguise have flooded the 2012 campaigns — a great deal of it washed through organizations that are set up for the particular purpose of hiding the names of the writers of enormous checks.

The ability to follow the money has never been this important since the bagman days of the Watergate scandal. But when the Democratic Senate majority made a fresh attempt to enact a disclosure bill on Monday, the measure was immediately filibustered to death by Republicans, like other versions.

Still, the vote was a chance for the public to see who stands for and against such basic transparency in political spending. The answer: not one Republican showed the courage to break ranks and speak up for disclosure.

Republicans have been the main beneficiaries of corporate and independent spending sprees. The party’s lock-step opposition to letting voters see who writes the big checks is an embarrassment to Congress.

Opponents are crying that disclosure violates donors’ privacy and favors unions. This is election-year nonsense to give cover to the aggressively partisan groups that pose as “social welfare” organizations but tip the campaign scales heavily with stealth financing.

The Senate measure would require corporations, unions and any other organization paying for election-cycle messages to disclose expenditures of $10,000 or more within 24 hours and identify donors writing checks of $10,000 or more. It would further require reporting of third-party money transfers, a shadow device to hide contributors.

The measure’s chief sponsor, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, has tried to win Republican support by eliminating a provision requiring that the top five donors be identified at the end of election commercials.

But Republicans turned their backs, including John McCain, once the great champion of campaign finance reform who has been predicting that “huge scandals” will inevitably flow from Citizens United.

Voters concerned about the big-money distortion of politics now know precisely who put the issue quietly to bed.

2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Report 

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