Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Campaign Finance Reform is a Game of Whack-a-mole

Sources: The Hidden Money Funding the Midterms, Super PAC or Super Fraud, Richest Billionaires are also top political spenders, Former Hawaii Gov. Cayetano Settles Libel Lawsuit Against Super PAC, Top Organizational Contributors

When one loophole is closed another is opened

Super PACs have figured out how to run ads without disclosing their donors until after elections. Under the Citizens United v. FEC ruling, Super PACs can spend an unlimited amount of money on political ads, but they must disclose their donors. However, a growing number of Super PACs have begun to circumvent this rule by forming the day after the deadline for reporting donors and not reporting donors until after election day. Others go into debt to buy political ads and pay it off with donations after the election. During the 2018 congressional races, 63 super PACs adopted one of these two tactics and spent a total of $21.9 million on campaign ads and mailers without revealing the source of their funding.

A major advantage of super PACs is that they allow politicians and their supporters to defame their opponents without being liable. The anonymity they provide allows the supporters of certain politicians to make false and malicious claims about their opponents without the risk of being sued for defamation. Recent examples include Roy Moore, a Republican senate candidate for a special election in Alabama who was smeared by a rival candidate’s Super PAC as a sexual predator on the basis of mere hearsay. During a 2012 mayoral race for Honolulu, Hawaii, the former governor of Hawaii, Ben Cayetano was falsely accused of taking kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions by a rival super PAC. Unfortunately, Super PACs can also be a disadvantage for the candidates they are supposed to represent. Such was the case for 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who sued a Super PAC that used his name and likeness under a false advertising statute. Super PACs make what could otherwise be intelligent debate about policy into smear campaigns and scare tactics that appeal to the lowest common denominator. But perhaps the best selling point of super PACs and the whole charade of private campaign finance laws is that they further entrench the political duopoly by making political discourse a function of the amount of money you can raise. Inevitably, this process tends to favor billionaires like Jeff Bezos and corporate interests like Amazon or, for instance, the entire defense industry, who have the most money to throw around and are heavily invested in a two party system that’s much easier to control than a political plurality. 36 of the the world’s 100 richest people are U.S. citizens and 30 of them regularly donate to political action committees. Out of the $184 million that billionaires contributed to the 2016 election cycle, 92% of it was donated to PACs and Super PACs.

The Solution

A political plurality, wherein more than two parties and independent candidates share power, can only be achieved through mandatory publicly funded elections. Every means of private campaign financing, especially Super PACs, should be made illegal and every candidate for any office who receives support from at least 5% of the electorate should be given an equal lump sum to spend directly on campaign activities. Candidates could qualify for government funds either through a petition or a preliminary poll. The details could be hashed once the country decides to abandon the inane belief that corporate propaganda and character assassinations is somehow the height of free speech. Such a plan would also require a constitutional convention, so it would be much easier to implement at the state and municipal level where constitutions are more readily amended.


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