Editor’s note: Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2014, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. This column was published by the Logan Banner.
In the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision likely to be announced soon, the Supreme Court is expected to strike down the long-standing cap on total contributions individuals may give to federal candidates and political parties, permitting the unseemly spectacle of a single donor contributing more than $3.5 million to one party during an election cycle. This Sunshine Week, as we consider the vital importance of the public’s right to know, we should put pressure on our elected officials to ensure we all have access to who’s funding and influencing our elections.
A more robust disclosure regime will be necessary to inform the public whether, in exchange for such massive contributions, donors are receiving more access to and influence over our elected officials. It’s technologically possible, so why not make this vital information available as soon as possible? Congress should enact legislation to mandate disclosure of all contributions of $1,000 or more to parties, candidates and political committees within 48 hours to enable citizens to better gauge whether their elected officials are representing their interests or special moneyed interests.
Nearly $7 billion was spent on campaigns in 2012. Roughly a billion dollars came from “outside” groups, the result of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision. The remainder was financed mostly with so-called hard money contributions made to the candidates and parties. The source of much of that money was the political 1% of the 1%, the wealthiest citizens whose voice in politics, if measured by spending, far outweighs everyone else’s.
The Court is likely to strike the overall contribution caps because a majority doesn’t view multi-million-dollar contributions from a single individual as a problem. What this court fails to recognize is the First Amendment rights of the 99.9% of citizens who cannot buy access to elected officials in order to give voice to their issues. Seven-figure contributions are not a megaphone merely amplifying the voices of the donors, they are a sonic boom, overpowering to the point of silencing all other voices.
The tiny number of donors with the political purchasing power to make multi-million-dollar contributions simply do not, cannot and will not represent the interests of most Americans. And while the super rich have every right to advocate for what they believe in, they shouldn’t have the right to suffocate everyone else’s voice under the weight of their massive campaign contributions. Without real time transparency, they will…