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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Federal Judge Shines Light On Buying Influence

A Judge Turns on the Light
The New York Times  -  EDITORIAL  -  April 2, 2012

A federal judge took an important step toward ending secret donations to big-spending political groups, striking down regulations that permitted some groups to hide their donors. Unfortunately, the ruling probably came too late to flush this corrupting practice from this year’s elections — though there is still time for Congress to do so.  The secret-donor problem began in 2007 when the Supreme Court, in the Wisconsin Right to Life case, ended restrictions on corporate and union political spending by advocacy groups in the weeks prior to an election. A few weeks later, the Federal Election Commission, naïvely suggesting that some corporate donors to those groups might not have intended to give for political purposes, said that only those donations explicitly earmarked for political purposes had to be disclosed. The loophole was obvious: Just don’t declare any donation to be political, and they can all be secret.  The rule does not apply to modern “super PACs,” which exist for political purposes and must disclose their donors. But it allowed groups that accept money for other purposes, like the United States Chamber of Commerce, to collect millions of undisclosed dollars to buy ads that criticize candidates who differ with their pro-business agenda.  During the 2010 Congressional elections, political operatives like Karl Rove helped set up a variety of purported charities or educational groups to provide a shield to anonymous political donors. Along with the chamber, these groups took in more than $138 million in undisclosed money that year, 80 percent of which was spent supporting Republican candidates. Many of the same secretive groups have already begun running ads in this year’s campaign, and the flood will shortly begin in earnest.  A year ago, Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, filed suit against the F.E.C., saying its 2007 regulation violated the intention of Congress when it passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act in 2002. That law makes it clear that donations greater than $1,000 to advocacy groups have to be disclosed.  On Friday, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington agreed. She ruled that the F.E.C. overstepped its boundaries in requiring disclosure only of explicit political donations. “Congress spoke plainly” in requiring full disclosure, she wrote, and even the Citizens United decision called for disclosure of the unlimited corporate and union donations it permitted.  Judge Jackson’s clearsighted opinion is a win for clean elections. But it will probably be appealed, which could delay a final decision by months or years. If it were a functioning body, the F.E.C. would change its regulations to comply with the court ruling, but its three Republican commissioners have repeatedly blocked attempts to require disclosure.  Congress could quickly resolve the issue if it were truly interested in cleaning up campaign finance. Mr. Van Hollen has introduced a new version of the Disclose Act that would go even further than the court decision in making donations transparent, requiring the names of top donors to appear in ads, and imposing stronger reporting requirements for super PACs. Republicans filibustered a similar bill last year in the Senate, and no Republicans have stepped up to support this version. In the meantime, the grim tide of secret money keeps rising.


Anonymous said...

The Supreme Court has basically allowed the wholesale buying of justice in our courts. Disgraceful.

Disgusted said...

"Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity." ~ Lord Acton

Anonymous said...

Illicit actions occur in the darkness. Let's continue to shine a spotlight on these criminal acts.

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