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home : opinion : news views October 3, 2015

8/1/2014 11:36:00 PM
Money and Politics Truly Don't Mix
Gary Gerard
Times-Union General Manager

There was a piece in the New York Times on July 17 written by a guy named Bob Biersack.
Since 2011, he has toiled at the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates
Before that, Biersack spent 30 years on the staff of the Federal Election Commission. There, he developed and promoted disclosure, serving as a statistician, a press officer and as a special assistant working to redesign the disclosure process.
So he knows a little bit about campaign finance.
In his piece in the NYT, Biersack notes that billions of dollars are being spent in the run-up to the November midterm elections.
He notes that the Supreme Court has struck down limits on spending by corporations and unions as well as overall caps on individual donations to candidates for federal office.
(I would add that super PACs and shadowy nonprofit 501(c)(4)s are spending tons of money on politics while billing themselves as “social welfare groups.”)
But, he says, “Even as cash gushes through the system, though, we still have a key underpinning of our campaign finance law: the principle that the public has a right to know who finances campaigns, and how candidates, parties and other political committees are using those funds. If the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with receiving and reviewing the reports and making the information available, falls down on the job, this principle is undermined.”
Unfortunately, the rest of his article chronicles just how badly the FEC has fallen down. He talks about missing data and delays. It seems the FEC is supposed to complete 95 percent of its processing within 30 days of a filing deadline.
Apparently, when Biersack and the CFRP came calling, the FEC wasn’t even close to meeting that standard. When they called the FEC out, the FEC told them, “The Commission is keenly aware of the brief delay in the processing of itemized transactions filed in the campaign finance reports. In the current two-year election cycle, the Agency has taken more than 30 days to process 18.8 percent of the new reports filed ... as compared to 11.4 percent for the same period in the 2011-2012 cycle.”
This was well past the 30-day deadline.
Biersack’s assessment:
“With so much money sloshing through our political system, thanks in part to the Supreme Court, accurate, consistent and complete disclosure of information becomes the only tool voters have to assess who’s funding our electoral politics. The FEC must recommit itself to its basic obligation to save what’s left of our campaign finance laws.”
So, the only tools the voters have are getting a little rusty even as record amounts of money is spent on political campaigns.
I am more than a little disappointed by this, but I must say I am not surprised. We’ve got the best lawmakers money can buy in this country.
Does anybody really expect Congress to clamp down on the FEC and make sure these reports are filed in a timely manner?
These reports are about how much cash is being spent and who is spending it on each lawmaker. Frankly, I am willing to make the not-so-bold prediction that, if anything happens, the pendulum will likely swing the other way.
The FEC’s reporting requirements likely will be relaxed so the voting public will have even less access to information about who’s spending how much on whom.
It’s already way out of control.
During the last presidential campaign, each candidate spent a billion dollars trying to get elected.
Tens of millions were spent on certain House and Senate races.
Once elected, how do you suppose these legislators respond when the phone rings?
“Hey, remember me? Congrats on your election. Yeah, nice speech. Nice suit. Now, can we talk for a minute? I have this ... (enter your favorite pet project here – oil, green energy, defense contracting, union regulations, tax breaks, corporate welfare, etc.) ... I’d really like to have you and some of your colleagues support this OK? Great! Thanks.”
We peons are the legislator’s constituents, but we’re not the ones the legislator listens to.
I know this because I see the laws that Congress passes. Is it the stuff that benefits the vast majority of Americans? Nah.
Lots of the things that Congress passes – not all, of course –  benefit a very privileged few. That’s why big corporations get to outsource jobs and park profits overseas to avoid taxes.
I completely disagree with recent Supreme Court rulings that say corporations are the same as people and money is the same as speech with regard to First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
How could the current Supreme Court Justices interpret the First Amendment to mean that rich people can essentially pay lawmakers to do their bidding?
That’s what the founders meant when they said “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech?”
Huh. Who knew?
Silly me. All this time I thought the founders were talking about limiting the government’s ability to silence its critics.
I guess I must have got it all wrong. It was about giving unfettered power, influence and access to people who contribute the most money.
Fair enough. If that’s the case, maybe I’ve been going about this whole journalism thing wrong, too.
“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press” must mean I should pay lawmakers with positive press – and a little cash, if necessary – if only they do the bidding of the newspaper.
All these years I thought we were supposed to be a watchdog, keeping track of the actions of public officials entrusted with our tax dollars. Heck, we should have just been cashing in.
We should fund our favorite legislator’s campaign in exchange for some tax breaks. We could get Congress to subsidize the production of newsprint. Think of the money we’d save. Maybe we could get all those arcane libel laws rescinded.
That’s the intent of the freedoms bestowed us in the First Amendment, right?
The founders are spinning in their graves.

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