The 2010 Election’s Donors Should Not Be Kept Secret

We need to know just who wants us voting for who, and why.

By SHARE

Let me be clear. The American Future Fund is not an Islamic terrorist group, operating in Iowa, aiming to take over America.

When I wrote that here a few days back I was joking. That was satire. It was a parody of Glenn Beck, and the birthers, and other right-wing conspiracy theorists who take various random patterns and coincidences and spin them into vast liberal plots and counterplots. You should not believe that the AFF is a terrorist front. Indeed, I suspect that the people who run and donate to the AFF are fine patriotic Americans.

My beef is with our campaign finance laws, which have huge loopholes, and allow organizations like AFF to spend millions of dollars influencing our politics, without having to disclose their donors to the voters. This has become an issue in the off-year election, as you may have noticed, what with President Obama and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce jousting in public in recent days. And AFF's activities have been the subject of front-page stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times this month.

In writing about this issue, I deliberately reached for an outrageous, manifestly bogus conspiracy theory (witches and Nazis already having been taken, and space aliens too ridiculous) and suggested that the loopholes in our campaign finance laws are so broad that even Islamic terrorists could, by exploiting these loopholes, infiltrate our politics. I noted, immediately, that I really did not believe this was the case, but argued for full disclosure. We would not have to worry about such things, I suggested, if we knew who was giving the campaign cash.

Apparently, some readers did not get past the opening paragraph, and have come to believe that Iowa's rolling farmland does indeed harbor vicious terrorist cells. Yikes! Nor did AFF much like my post. They too think, apparently, that I was serious. So let me say again: It Was A Joke. AFF is not a terrorist group. According to the New York Times, AFF is "a conservative organization based in Iowa" which "has been one of the more active players in this fall's campaigns, spending millions of dollars on ads attacking Democrats across the country." Indeed, AFF is proud of its work. "It has not hesitated to take credit for its attacks," the Times reported, and has issued press releases with headlines like "AFF Launches TV Ads in 13 States Targeting Liberal Politicians."

The AFF, "organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous, is one of dozens of groups awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate," the Times reported. The newspaper's investigative reporters poked around, and (rejecting the space alien and terrorist theories) identified certain ethanol interests as past contributors to the fund.

"The surge of anonymous money is the latest development in corporate America's efforts to influence the agenda in Washington," said the Times. "Democrats first established so-called third-party groups that could legally accept unlimited money from business and unions, though most had to disclose donors. Now, as new laws and a major Supreme Court decision have removed barriers to corporate giving, Republican operatives have embraced the use of nonprofit issue groups that can keep donors' identities secret."

That stinks. It is cowardly, for both parties, to operate in such a fashion. Full disclosure, at a minimum, should be required. The First Amendment may keep us from capping donations, but if we are to preserve our liberty, the names of deep-pocketed donors influencing our elections should be publicly available before Election Day. We need to know just who wants us voting for who, and why.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.
  • See who is donating to your member of Congress.
  • See photos from the campaign trail.