Sunday, January 24, 2010

Throwing more money at U.S. politics

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There’s already too much money spent on political campaigns, too many attack ads and too many public officials, especially in Congress, whose primary purpose in life is to get re-elected.

Also, there are too many special interest groups whose primary focus is on electing or defeating candidates, not for the good of the country but for the advancement of their own narrow agendas.

Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it easier for corporations and unions to pump money into political campaigns isn’t going to improve the situation.

Neither, we suspect, will it make it much worse.

The court, in what is being called a landmark 5-to-4 decision, overturned a 63-year-old law, and two of its own decisions, that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries on ads that advocate electing or defeating candidates for president or Congress but are produced independently and not coordinated with the candidate’s campaign.

It also lifted the prohibition in the McCain-Feingold Act that since 2002 had barred issue-oriented ads, paid for by corporations or unions, from running 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.

The court left in place a century-old ban on donations by corporations from their treasuries directly to candidates and a McCain-Feingold provision that anyone spending money on political ads must disclose the names of contributors.

It’s pretty clear that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech -- on which the ruling was made -- isn’t going to allow Congress or anyone else to rein in spending on political campaigns.

What Congress can do, though, is enact more disclosure rules, making it easier for the public to see exactly where the money is coming from in those political campaigns.

Ultimately, the more money that flows into these campaigns -- and there will be more -- the more it behooves voters to be aware of who is financing whom and for what reason.

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