By John Pudner, contributor
With all the rhetoric on the campaign trail today, there is one place where Republicans and Democrats can both agree — transparency is a good thing. In an era where self-financed campaigns compete with those back by anonymous super PACS it can be confusing for voters to know just who really “approved the messages” we are barraged with leading up to Election Day.
The influence of money on candidates and elected officials continues to permeate campaigns at every level. Did the Clinton Foundation accept contributions from foreign interests to influence the Secretary of State? Did Donald Trump get favors from the Florida Attorney General? Are average voters fed up with the influence buying?
The answers to all three questions is likely dependent on where you are politically — but the more important questions is, can something be done about it? The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
While money in politics is nothing new, there are constant ways that big money donors and special interests are finding to hide their involvement in supporting campaigns, and influencing legislators. Corporate contributions, support for issue focused non-profits, and so-called “dark money” all have potential to influence voters, and the decisions officials make — and it all goes unreported.
Political cynics would argue that you get what you pay for when supporting campaigns. Yet, without meaningful and transparent disclosures, it is unclear (unless you are a good opposition researcher) if a candidate owes something to a company, organization, or individual that supported the campaign.
Candidates constantly make promises of advocating for meaningful campaign finance reforms, yet there has been little action to accompany their rhetoric. Lack of action by politicians is not all that surprising considering the amount of money raised — and with the expense of running a campaign, it’s hard to say no. In the case of super PACS, it would not even matter if the beneficiary of the spending even did just that.
Under current rules, significant anonymous support is possible. Candidates for every office should demand that any supporters of their campaign disclose the source of any independent expenditure they make. If supporters refuse, the candidate should disavow the support — no matter how flattering or beneficial the message.
Something funny often happens on the way to the swearing in ceremony — the promises of campaign finance reform take a back seat. Is the amnesia about this campaign commitment pay back to protect those that paved the way to victory? Surely, it is.
While not everyone who opposes transparency has something to hide, public officials should be held to a higher standard and allow those they represent to know why they have the opinions they do — are the positions real or rented? The voters have a right to decide.
There is nothing wrong with campaign contributions as long as they are disclosed. A quest for disclosure of donations fully supports arguments of free speech advocates and discourages what some political observers have described as transactional giving.
Campaign finance reform doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be very simple. Any expenditure designed to influence a candidate or legislator should be publicly disclosed. Only those trying to manipulate the system can disagree, and who wants to be associated with possible corruption like that anyway?
John Pudner is the founder of Take Back Our Republic.