News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 4, 2012

EDITORIAL: One nation under full accountability

Campaign finance regulations need to be addressed


The Tribune-Star

---- — A long, expensive and ironic election process is nearing an end.

Democracy’s most healthy exercise, voting, is the nation’s best example of the freedoms Americans enjoy and cherish.

It also contains some irony in 2012. In Indiana, Hoosiers are required to show a state-issued photo ID to cast a ballot at the polls Tuesday. If they are not already a licensed driver, they can get a photo ID at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch. At the BMV, they’ll need a birth certificate, military ID or passport to get that photo ID. Proponents of the photo-ID voting law contend that it protects the integrity of the process.

Hoosiers and millions of other Americans have been inundated with more than 1 million television ads by the presidential campaigns and “super PACS” supporting either President Obama or Republican Mitt Romney this year. Thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision and other federal court actions that unbridled the campaign finance system, corporations, labor unions, and other special-interest organizations are pouring unlimited contributions to create and fund those super political-action-committees, adding more than half-a-billion dollars to the already eye-popping $800 million spent by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, according to The Associated Press.

Total campaign spending by outside groups exceeds $1 billion, according to the nonprofit Sunshine Foundation, cited by The AP. Nearly $900 million of that $1 billion goes toward attacking the rival candidate.

Unlike Hoosiers trying to exercise their vote, many donors behind the super PACs get to remain largely anonymous under the wide-open finance laws. Federal disclosure rules are often circumvented. As The AP reported, nonprofit “social welfare” groups funnel millions of dollars through the super PACs for “issue ads,” but those nonprofits are governed by tax laws and they do not have to reveal their donors’ names.

So, exactly which group poses the greatest threat to the integrity of the electoral process — an elderly woman who hasn’t held a driver’s license for 20 years, or a shadowy political-action group funded by a yet-undisclosed handful of billionaires?

The lax campaign financing laws essentially give a few wealthy individuals, powerful corporations and labor groups free reign to slap a nondescript name on their blizzard of super PAC television ads, in hopes of convincing voters to back the candidate that will favor the big donors’ objectives. Of course, before those voters cast a ballot for the super PAC candidates, they’ll need to pull out their driver’s license.

Once the dust settles on the election, the 113th Congress needs to address the nation’s campaign finance regulations. Full accountability should not be expected only of average American voters.