Editorial: Disclose who is spending the money

Published Jan 2, 2013 at 04:00AM

Members of Congress are not puppets controlled by their campaign donors. But decisions can be colored by the knowledge that an organization with a multimillion dollar war chest is poised to launch anonymous attack ads if a senator or representative votes the “wrong” way.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are crafting legislation that they hope will, at least, make it clearer who is spending money. They wrote about it recently in The Washington Post.

Federal law requires only quarterly finance reports. So, it can be months after an election before the public learns who dumped millions into television ads before the election.

The senators’ proposal is to require that credit and debit card donations be reported within 48 hours of receipt. Donations by check would be reported before the check is deposited, in no case later than 10 days after receipt.

The proposal doesn’t stop there. It increases the triggering level for disclosure from a $200 contribution to a $500 contribution. That’s to focus attention on more significant expenditures.

The proposal also aims to capture the financial activity for corporations and other business entities, labor unions, 501(c) tax-exempt entities and unincorporated associations. If they spend in excess of $500 on “election-related activity,” they must report it.

Republicans in the Senate filibustered a similar bill in 2012, the DISCLOSE Act. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave a series of speeches defending political giving as free speech. He said groups such as the NAACP, Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce would be forced to subject their members to public intimidation and harassment because of the reporting requirements of the DISCLOSE Act.

Wyden and Murkowski proposed some protection in their new concept. Members of organizations that are supported by dues would be able to dedicate up to $500 per member to election activity without a requirement to disclose the identity of the individual members.

The idea of increasing transparency in campaign contributions in this proposal helps.

It’s not going to stop all the sleaze and shenanigans. But people may know better where it’s coming from.

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