Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Needed: transparency in campaign spending

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 6:56 AM

MONEYBAGS: Teresa Oelke
  • MONEYBAGS: Teresa Oelke
A New York Times editorial notes a valuable federal court ruling.

The ruling says that contributors must be revealed on political attack ads thinly disguised as "issue" advertising. You know the kind. "State Rep. Tim Summers voted to increase the gas tax. [He didn't, but let's ignore that for a moment.] Call Tim Summers and tell him he's a low-down, sorry piece of garbage for being a tax-and-spend liberal." It's OK because the ad never "directly advocates" a vote for or against a candidate. Uh huh.

Unfortunately, even if fully enforced at the federal level, this ruling leaves many loopholes. Independent electioneering remains acceptable. Also:

It’s true that the law permits secret donors to certain independent groups that sponsor political ads, one of the biggest flaws in a campaign regulation system that has almost completely broken down. Unless a check to the chamber is explicitly earmarked for political purposes as opposed to dues or the general fund — something no check writer would do — it can be kept secret.

I suspect, but I don't know, that it's this loophole or a semblance of it that allows the rise of secret campaign spending on Arkansas political races. I've written before that the Koch brothers' lobby, Americans for Prosperity, spent a significant sum on TV to defeat Tim Summers in his race against the corporate conservatives' candidate, Bart Hester, for a Bentonville state Senate seat. How much? Who contributed it? We don't know. We do know that the AFP branch in Arkansas is led by a paid lobbyist, Teresa Oelke, whose extended family and related businesses contributed a significant chunk of the money Hester raised. AFP has worked at every level in Arkansas — including in opposition to rules to protect clean water in Lake Maumelle. Their activities are very public. Little about their financing is. With more friends like Hester in the Arkansas legislature, that isn't likely to change. Which is the idea, along with full Koch control of taxation and regulation.

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