News item: An Arizona nonprofit, taking advantage of permissive federal laws to hide its donors, pumped $11 million into California campaigns.
Ironically, the beneficiaries include an initiative whose sponsors claim they want to curb the influence of special-interest money in politics.
News item: A presumably local committee, taking advantage of permissive state laws to hide its donors, launched a scurrilous attack on a Cotati-Rohnert Park school board member seeking re-election in the November election.
In this instance, less than $1,000 is reportedly being spent on automated telephone calls targeting Karyn Pulley.
Big money or small, anonymous attacks are, to put it bluntly, sleazy. They have no place in political campaigns.
Practitioners, facilitators and apologists will make grandiloquent claims about free speech. They may even invoke the Founders and the authors of Revolutionary tracts. But Thomas Paine didn't grossly distort the public record to undermine unnamed rivals. And misleading robo-calls aren't the modern equivalent of the Federalist.
People lobbing bombs should have the courage to identify themselves. Voters can't properly assess the message without knowing the messenger.
What we're witnessing is the predictable results of laws, legal decisions and rank political calculations that have shredded the principle of transparency in the realm of politics.
The U.S. Supreme Court wasn't satisfied with overturning provisions of the McCain-Feingold act that violated free speech rights. Instead, with its Citizens United decision, the court released a torrent of new money into political campaigns while blithely assuring the public that disclosure laws would provide the information voters need to weigh the credibility of political charges and the motives of those leveling them.
However, Congress didn't tighten disclosure laws, and political operatives took full advantage of existing loopholes to raise and spend millions without naming their donors. That's the route taken by Americans for Responsible Leadership to donate $11 million to a committee opposing Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A group with an equally anodyne name, Parents for Better Schools, is behind the attacks on Pulley, blasting her for votes identical to those cast by other school board members.
Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams said he was paid less than $1,000 to arrange the automated calls, leaving the group below the threshold for naming donors — or even identifying themselves.
Politics is filled with irony. And this issue is no different.
After the Citizens United decision, Republicans in Congress were the biggest obstacle to new disclosure laws. They expected to benefit more than Democrats from removing the strictures on corporate and union spending.
But, according to a report in the New York Times, some of those GOP opponents are reconsidering after becoming targets of anonymous, big-money attacks themselves.. Among the reforms now being suggested is eliminating all limits on donations to candidates and requiring immediate disclosure of the amount and sources of money.
Immediate disclosure is a good idea. Raising the cap — currently $2,500 — may be, too. But if anything should be eliminated, it's the threshold at the bottom, not the ceiling at the top.