Secrecy and government have always been strange bedfellows. In times of threat and conflict, spying and clandestine strategies have always been hidden behind closed doors; after all, “war is deception.” But in a plutocracy, where the greatest challenge to modern democracy is the ability of special interests to buy a government that grants them exemptions from the laws applicable to “everyman” and provides them with protected status at the expense of the general economic and political good of the nation, transparency in campaign activities would seem to be a core survival value.
We make lobbyists register in Washington, but we allow special interests secretly to dump millions and millions of dollars into political campaigns – creating an aura of legitimacy and groundswell around issues and candidates with less-than-honorable intentions. This is the legacy of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, a narrow U.S. Supreme Court decision this year that literally took the most of the restrictions away from corporate and union campaign contributions, even the undisclosed and anonymous kind.
Secrecy and campaign machinations – the infamous Watergate debacle (1972-74) – brought down the Nixon Presidency with his resignation on August 8, 1974. But if conditions were bad then, they are horrific today. Forget about the misdirection of the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat campaign, what we have today – in the upcoming mid-term elections – may be the greatest challenge to our form of government since the Civil War or FDR’s attempt to stack the Supreme Court.
According to DL-online.com (Oct. 15th), citing a series of Washington Post reports, notes the challenges that secrecy brings to elections: “That’s why we’re so concerned about the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that has opened the floodgates to huge amounts of undisclosed campaign contributions… According to a Washington Post analysis, outside interest groups are spending five times as much ($80 million) on the 2010 midterms as they did in the 2006 midterm elections ($16 million)… In addition, more than half of the money being spent this year comes from groups that do not disclose their donors.” It doesn’t matter whether you are conservative or liberal or in the middle, transparency in elections is vital for the survival of a democracy.
That mega-donors – mostly seeking candidates and ballot propositions that favor deregulation and lower taxes in pursuit of profound self-interest – are often willing to embrace social issue candidates (who passionately apply some simplistic “solution or religious slogan”) in exchange for a seemingly squeaky clean endorsement of economic issues that can only benefit the wealthiest citizens in our country, continuing to slant the economic playing field towards the elite and away from everyone else.
Shouldn’t we at least know who they are? Is there a reason that such selfish contributors – the same folks who used an under-regulated Wall Street to soak our nation in unsustainable debt and create trading instruments -- the entire derivative market -- that encouraged irresponsible investing at the expense of value-creating economic – should have the right to ply their ugly trade in the shadows? Why do we let them hide behind the seeming innocence of a candidate who may have a passionate drive for a social issue – pure enough whether right or wrong – when they don’t care a lick for the issue itself? The law must change or perhaps we should simply sell political office and ballot propositions to the highest bidder and do away with the hypocrisy of Citizens United.