If we must be subjected to boundless political advertising, we should at least know who's paying for it. That's the reasoning behind Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden's efforts to tame the political big game unleashed by the Citizens United ruling handed down two years ago Monday.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantees corporations and unions the right to advocate or oppose candidates—and to do so without spending restrictions—it launched the era of super PACs, political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, and enabled trade associations and nonprofits promoting social welfare to spend money on electioneering activities. These groups account for much of the massive spending in elections since the ruling was handed down. In the 2012 presidential race, super PACs and other independent groups spent at least $524 million urging voters to elect or defeat candidates, according to the New York Times.
Under the law, citizens can find out who donates to super PACs like American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-inspired group that spent $105 million supporting Republican candidates in 2012, but they can't necessarily get that information before an election. And they don't have a right to know who donates to nonprofit advocacy groups like Crossroads' shadowy sibling, Crossroads GPS, which spent $70.6 million from anonymous donors slamming candidates in 2012. It's time to close those loopholes.
Wyden and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley have been vocal sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require any entity spending $10,000 or more in an election to identify all donors of $10,000 or more. Versions of the bill are pending in both houses of Congress after being scuttled in previous incarnations by Republican opposition.
Wyden, meanwhile, is teaming with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to frame legislation that would require all entities engaged in "election-related activity," including individuals and nonprofits, to disclose the identity of every donor of $500 or more. Like Oregon's campaign finance law, it would require that contributions be reported immediately rather than in quarterly reports.
Let's hope these senators succeed in shining light into the secret passageways of campaign finance.More Moderates Kudos to Conger
State Sen. Tim Knopp last week told the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association just what it wanted to hear: He will oppose any gun control legislation introduced this session. Predictable.
State Rep. Jason Conger was more moderate and we commend him. While he does plan to fight new gun control efforts, he decried the NRA's recent recommendation that schools post armed guards and acknowledged that Oregon's "extremely inconvenient" law requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases, including those made at gun shows, is "reasonable." Kudos for voicing restraint to a tough crowd, Conger.
We urge Oregon's congressional delegation to work for a comparable federal law, as well as a national registry needed to investigate gun crimes. Further, tell your representatives to ban semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, both of which empower mass killers.