Updated 09/24/2012 07:42 AM
On the Agenda: Secrecy fuels Super PACs, but money isn't everything
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In the Citizens United decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy opened the door on unlimited corporate donations to Super PACs. He wrote the country could have not have too much political speech. He also wrote that disclosing donors was a crucial principle in a democracy.
With donor disclosure required, Super PACs fundraising was pretty anemic, but then the lawyers realized that a type of non-profit called a 501c4 could prevent voters from seeing who was giving what. 501C4s are supposedly social welfare nonprofits and their donors can remain secret.
So in a particularly malignant twist of lawyer loopholes, corporations, unions and the super rich can secretly give to 501C4s who then make public donations to the SuperPACs.
In this cycle, Republicans have dominated intentional voter deception, but Democrats are working hard to catch up.
Pollsters report that Americans overwhelmingly oppose secret money. Still, it would be naïve to expect politicians who benefit from this particular corruption to fix it anytime soon.
Fortunately, while money is a huge predictor of election success, it cannot do the job by itself.
In his Lt. Governor’s Race in 1998, Rick Perry barely beat Democrat John Sharp in a relatively even financial match up. But in his gubernatorial race four years later, Perry crushed Democrat Tony Sanchez despite being outspent by four to one.
Ironically, although he did not outspend David Dewhurst, it was Super PAC money that gave Ted Cruz a big enough microphone to beat the odds and win the Republican Senate nomination.
Political professionals are watching this year’s cycle closely. While many critics think that Mitt Romney has run a poor campaign, there is a tidal wave of Super PAC money that already has been and still will be spent against Democrats.
Nevertheless, the increasingly common bet as of today only is that Mr. Obama wins and Democrats hold the Senate.
Whatever happens, there is no place for secret campaign contributions in a free and open democracy.