There’s no shortage of issues where Americans disagree, sometimes passionately, even violently — immigration, abortion, gun control and health care — but there’s one, it seems to us, around which Americans of all stripes can unite: the need for campaign finance reform.
A number of Democrats highlighted the issue, as well as the challenges, during last week’s debates. While we may not agree with some of their solutions, or think some of them realistic, it’s indisputable that genuine reform on any number of issues is not likely to happen until we find a way to control political money.
The top 20 oil and gas donors, for example, gave more than $50 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and coal companies gave millions more. If you believe Congress is going to reform energy policy and address climate change, we have an environmentally-friendly perpetual motion machine to sell you.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield as well as Pfizer have spent more than $77 million on federal politicians since 1990, and more than $550 million since 1998 lobbying them. If you think lawmakers are going to put your health care concerns first, we have bottles of a magic elixir we’d like to sell you.
Democrats outlined a number of solutions, including expanding public financing for federal elections, of which we’re wary, and talk of some sort of an amendment that would overturn Citizens United, which seems like a bridge too far.
A better, quicker target for us is dark money — organizations that don’t currently have to report donors. Even the Supreme Court has supported the importance of disclosure.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, right now 501(c)(4) groups (nonprofit social welfare organizations) can raise unlimited amounts of money and give some of it to politicians without any disclosure. These are groups with opaque names such as the American Action Network and the American Future Fund, which is ironic because hiding in the shadows seems fundamentally un-American.
Super PACs also are considered dark money channels in that they can accept contributions from political nonprofits and “shell” corporations to give to politicians.
Like it or not, the U.S. Supreme Court has said in key decisions — Buckley v. Valeo and in Citizens United — that giving money is a form of expression akin to speech and therefore giving cannot be restricted. But if money equals speech, then dark money equals dark speech — speech without accountability, without the ability to know who is even “speaking.”
Congress can move on this anytime it wants.