Campaign Finance Disclosure Maintains Integrity of Political System
Voters need to know who is giving money, and what they want in return
June 21, 2012
In the current system of financing federal campaigns, less than one-half of one percent of adult Americans give contributions of more than $200. It's a system bankrolled by a tiny, elite set of Americans. Now, post-Citizens United, when billionaires, corporations, unions, and trade associations can directly contribute tens of millions to super PACs and their nonprofit 501(c)(3) counterparts in order to help elect or defeat candidates, the gap between those who give and those who vote is even greater. The only recourse for those who can only cast ballots is the ability to know who is spending huge sums to influence their vote and how those spenders raised the millions they are using to make their case. Unfortunately, in a recent study conducted with the Wesleyan Media Project, the Center for Responsive Politics found that only about 30 percent of the spending of top outside organizations running election ads disclosed that spending—to say nothing of the donors, who are often completely hidden.
Voting decisions are always made by judging both the messages and the messengers—the background and characteristics of candidates are part and parcel with the policies they advocate as voters kick the tires of those who would lead them. Americans can only rest assured that the integrity of the electoral and political systems is intact when they can see for themselves who's giving the money, and decide for themselves why they are doing it and what, if anything, they may want in return. When voters see political ads—and they'll be barraged with them soon if they haven't been already—and have no idea who's footing the bill, they can't consider the source as they judge the credibility of the message.
We've seen the importance of transparency (or its absence) in lots of financial contexts recently, ranging from insider trading to the financial crisis. Almost every solution to these problems has included wider access to information that would help people judge the motives and actions of those they might do business with. Having lived through the consequences of secret deals and conflicts of interest, how can we possibly think that our democracy would be better served with less financial transparency?
Just as donors don't make their funding decisions in a vacuum, so voters shouldn't make their political decisions without the benefit of weighing different perspectives and all the pertinent information—including who's paying the piper—because they're likely calling the tune.