That trend is that what feels like an increasing number of ads in specific support of specific candidates which are not “approved” by the candidate, but are sponsored by other organizations, often with marvelously vague, almost always “patriotic” sounding names. What amuses me (okay, it frustrates me) about this practice is that all too often these ads speak in the most negative terms of “outside influences” coming in to support some candidate or other, so one shouldn’t vote for THAT candidate because they are controlled by those “outside” influences. That’s how they work, of course. By attacking one candidate, they are, in fact, supporting his/her opponent, but since they don’t mention the opponent by name, she/he can claim a complete lack of knowledge, or control, over these ads which were clearly created to support them.
I think this is a result of the “Citizens United” case of a few years ago which, I believe essentially gave non-profit organizations (now extended to corporations, labor unions and other associations) the right to be free of restrictions for “independent political expenditures.” (Information from the Wikipedia article Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) What this decision seems to have led to is many, many organizations having been created for no purpose than to provide support for specific candidates and/or political positions. These groups frequently, however, decry how terrible it is that “some” candidate(s) are heavily influenced, or controlled, by “outside” influences, which is, of course, highly undesirable. This being the case, people should be suspicious of them, not vote for them, etc. What I find amusing here is the fact that these groups ARE, in many cases, such “outside” influences, as many of them operate on a national level, or at least across district and state lines.
Now, I’m not going to get into an argument about whether, or not, “… corporations are people, too.” I will go so far as to suggest that, whether we are speaking of individuals, corporations, unions, or almost any other sort of organization, political support is unlikely to be offered just for the heck of it. The whole idea behind them is to “influence” the election.
It seems to me that we, as an electorate, might be better served through some process which would restrict campaign donations from any source. I know this can be argued to violate the First Amendment “freedom of speech” clause, and that concerns me, but I am, at least at this point, more concerned about the idea that we often seem to have the best elected officials that money can buy. I don’t think it’s the only factor, but it does seem to be true that paid advertising does make a difference in elections (see “The Big Lie,” blog entry #3) and this advertising doesn’t really seem to be subject to much of any sort of control short of, perhaps, a specific suit for libel, which would almost certainly be too late to have an impact on an election.
It seems to me that the sort of campaign finance reform which has been proposed every so often, is probably a good idea. What I’m speaking of is having all campaigns publicly financed and subject to strict limits as to total spending. This would go a way towards leveling the playing field, although it probably wouldn’t solve the problem, especially in the light of Citizens United, as the advertising which that has generated is (or at least pretends to be) “issue oriented” so that these “non-profits” are making “independent political expenditures.” The challenge here, of course, is that wealthier people (as well as businesses, etc.) tend to advocate a more conservative political philosophy than many private individuals and they are in a stronger position to support their positions financially than most of the rest of us.
Now, I believe in the widest possible participation in the electoral process, so I don’t want to go so far as to request a reconsideration of Citizens United (although I’m not convinced that would be a bad thing). I do think, however, that just as candidates are required to make specific statements about their sponsorship of their “official” ads, it would not be too much to require that more be done in terms of requiring all politically oriented ads to identify who created and is paying for them and making public the names of the contributors to these various “independent,” non-profit organizations.
It would seem to me that these steps might go a long way towards allowing people to see who is sponsoring various candidates and where the candidate’s resources are, in fact, coming from. I strongly suspect that many more candidates than most of us are aware of are heavily supported by “out of state special interests.” I’m not going to suggest that this should be abolished (although that might not be bad idea) but the fact is that, since this support is, almost certainly, being offered with the assumption of influence on the candidate’s position (and vote) on specific ideas, shouldn’t the electorate have the right to know who (individuals or organizations) is supporting (or working against) a specific candidate?
I confess, I think it’s unlikely that any meaningful campaign reform is likely to either be proposed or accomplished because the people who have benefited from the current situation are the ones who would have to enact it. Still, this might be something worth working on over the long haul. I think it’s possible that, with enough pressure from the public, it’s possible that some positive steps might be taken. I think that would be desirable.
If you wish to take action in this area, you might take a look at an organization known as Issue One. I will confess that I haven’t looked deeply enough into it to wish to be seen as an advocate for this organization, but, based on a quick look at their web site: http://www.issueone.org it looks like their ideas and mine aren’t too far apart. Again, if you are interested, you might wish to take a look. At least, I hope that you will think about these questions.