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Voters Need to See Through the Special-Interest Fog
By Damon Circosta
Published: Dec. 14, 2010
RALEIGH - When Santa Claus makes his list of who has been naughty and who has been nice, he has some help.
Santa has at his disposal a cadre of elves, nine flying reindeer, a host of magical powers and reports from parents the world over. When he tallies up who has been good for goodness sake and who deserves coal in their stocking, he isn’t flying blind.
As we watched the campaign season unfold last month, we could have used some help from old St. Nick.
In the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, big unions and powerful corporations were allowed to spend freely to the affect the outcome of this year’s elections. Under the guise of innocuous-sounding names like “Americans for America,” all sorts of special interests flooded the airwaves. Using television attack ads and hit mail pieces, these shadowy groups spent millions telling us who to vote for or against.
Armed with loads of money -- presumably from donors who want special favors from the candidates they support -- these groups could outspend what the candidates themselves were raising, yet be accountable to no one.
The worst part is that as voters, we have no idea who was paying for all of this spending. No disclosure of where this money comes from is required. As such, these special-interest groups could throw stones behind a shroud of anonymity.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Just as Santa has Rudolph to guide him through the fog, we could enact regulations that shine some light on where this money is coming from. Call it the “Red-Nosed Reindeer Act of 2011.”
The same U.S. Supreme Court that said such spending was permissible also said that disclosure of where that money comes from is appropriate. Is it too much to ask that if someone plans on bringing lots of cash to the election party that they don’t make it a masquerade ball?
Early next year our newly elected officials will take their seats in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. Aside from having to contend with the many pressing issues of the day, they will most certainly be meeting those same people who spent big bucks so freely last election. You and I might not get to know who these people are, but you can rest assured they will make themselves known to our elected representatives.
With a wink and a nod they will talk about the money they spent in the last campaign cycle and their plans to spend even more the next go around. They won’t demand favorable legislation in exchange for electoral cash -- that would be illegal. Instead they will make coy references to how much money they have earmarked for election season.
In other words, these moneyed interests will be making their own list of who has been naughty and who has been nice.
As citizens, we might not have a ton of cash to spend on elections or lobbyists to spread that cash throughout the capital. We don’t have Santa’s magical powers to keep constant tabs on our elected officials or a sleigh of reindeer to zip us to the halls of government to keep an eye on things.
All we have is our vote. If the folks we elected don’t want to make the campaign finance system transparent, maybe our vote is a gift we won’t be giving them next time.