As some of you recall, the 2010 Citizens’s United decision opened the door to unlimited spending by Super PACs, Things then got more complicated because of the controversy about the IRS and 527 groups and whether the IRS was targeting conservative groups, which then became a cause célèbre for the conservative movement, even though that was a total red herring.
That discussion will have to remain for another day, although the following post can clarify some of the distinction between 527 and 501(c)(4) groups and why it matters.
But here’s the point I want to make today: even if you believe that the 1st Amendment authorizes unlimited political spending by groups like Super PACs — and I certainly don’t subscribe to that notion — there still isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t at least know who it is that is making the donations.
I mean, think of it this way: under the public forum doctrine, anyone can get on a soap box on the Boston Common or in Central Park and shout at the top of their lungs about whatever position they want to, no matter how offensive I may find it, and there’s nothing that I can do about it.
But they can’t do it anonymously.
They have to show their face. They have to appear in person. I might not know who they are, but I can find out. I can take their picture, I can record their voice, I can film them on my smart phone.
Not so with all the donors to Super PACs.
Why don’t they want us to know who they are?
Because they’re ashamed, that’s why. Because they know that what they’re doing is wrong, but they can’t help themselves. They can’t help themselves from trying to buy elections. And especially the corporate donors are afraid that some of their customers wouldn’t like what they’re doing. Which they wouldn’t.
There are some ongoing efforts to make donations to Super PACs more transparent. Open Secrets or the Center for Effective Government have initiatives to try to make donations more transparent. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island has introduced a bill to try to accomplish the same. I’m not endorsing any of these efforts one over the other, as I don’t know enough about them yet. But what I do know is that collectively we should get behind all of these efforts and do what we can to make one of them succeed.
So that corporate tycoons and wealthy fat cats can stop cowering in shame. We should do it for them.