I’m on Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s email list. Lately, his emails have focused on the Disclose Act, legislation being pushed by Senate Democrats that would require non-profit groups to disclose the identity of their donors.
The bill is a response of sorts to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and unions. Senator Brown’s most recent email, sent Saturday afternoon, says that such special interest money is having a “distorting effect” on elections and that the “flood” of money is “is threatening to wash away the voice of America’s middle class.” (Of course, because we don’t know the identity of the donors to these groups, we obviously don’t know for sure whether those donors are members of the middle class or not.) Not surprisingly, Senator Brown views all of this through the lens of his own experience; if you read his emails, they all discuss, in great detail, how much groups opposing his reelection are spending on that race.
What’s of interest to me is not the merits of Citizens United, or the merits of campaign finance reform generally. Instead, I find it curious that the Senate seems capable of debating and acting on issues like the DISCLOSE Act, but not on the issues that are of real import to Americans given our current predicament — like passing a budget, or dealing with our debt problems, or figuring out how to get our economy out of the doldrums in which it has been mired for four years.
Why is the DISCLOSE Act more worthy of the attention of the Senate than legislation that addresses our ongoing economic problems? Because political spending affects Senators, of course, and therefore legislation that addresses political spending must necessarily be their top priority. It’s a good example of how the interests of Senators vary from the interests of their constituents. If you asked Americans — middle class or otherwise — what topics the Senate should be focused on these days, how far down the priority list do you think you would need to go before your reached Citizens United and campaign finance reform?
You might be surprised. Most likely a minority, but I’m guessing not an insignificant number. Count me as one who considers it a high priority.
Read my newest post on Citizens United for a short analysis on why it’s not so bad.
Touching a nerve WB and I’m close to my last one. I agree wholeheartedly! Congress is filled with narcissistic whiners incapable of commencing the People’s work, never mind completing it!
The local Democrats called me yesterday, while I was working, and harassed me because I told them I was too busy working to donate 2 hours to the phone bank. The person I spoke with was deeply affronted when I told her I’d be voting for the Independent in the Senate race. She told me we were losing democracy and I told her it had been gone for quite a while because both parties are corrupt and self-involved. Oh, she didn’t like that! They’re all a bunch of slackers.
Perhaps I was wrong about a minority.
•88 percent think that all political campaign contributions and expenditures should be publicly disclosed. Over four-fifths of Republicans, Democrats, and independents are in agreement on this issue.
•75 percent support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would give Congress the power to limit the amount of money that can be spent on political campaigns for president and Congress. Democrats tend to be more supportive of such an amendment (81 percent) than Republicans (74 percent). Independents, at 68 percent, are the least enthusiastic, though they still support it by a huge margin.
Very interesting! I’m not surprised that people are in favor of transparency — but of course that doesn’t mean that voters would consider the Disclose Act to be the top legislative priority at this time. Can’t we do something meaningful about deficit reduction first, before we deal with an issue like campaign finance reform? (And I have to say I would not be one of the 75 percent who favor a constitutional amendment. I would not be sanguine about amending the First Amendment.)
I agree with webnerbob. His original post questioned why the Senate is making this particular piece of legislation a priority at this time. This is the same Senate that hasn’t passed a budget in the nearly 4 years since the President was elected.
I’m also not surprised that voters are broadly in favor of campaign finance transparency. Of course, the Disclose Act includes a disclosure threshold that provides only partial transparency. The Republicans believe the threshold favors the Democrats (see the article linked by webnerbob), so they are against the bill.
I didn’t take webnerbob’s post as suggesting that the legislation isn’t worthwhile, or that it is unimportant. However, I haven’t seen a single poll that lists campaign finance reform as a pressing issue in the eye of the public. The issues I’ve seen are: the economy, health care, education, Iraq, immigration, social security, Afghanistan, national security, taxes, and government ethics. I suppose if you tried really hard, you might be able to shoehorn this into government ethics.
I know that all opinions are respected at webnerhouse. I’m with Bob on this one.