Monday, May 2, 2011

More Transparency on the Horizon?

Slightly off-topic here, but President Obama is working to develop rules that would help to shed light on campaign funds used by companies in line with the Citizens United ruling. The new regulations would force disclosure of any funds companies use that are geared towards political action, including lobbying activity, individual donations, and donations to super PACs, PACs that compile corporate money to use primarily in advertising.

Citizens United essentially held that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns, as long as the money doesn't go directly into a candidate's campaign. So corporations can run their own ads, or pool money together in these super PACs, to run ads against or in favor of any politician, ballot initiative, or other political action. The new regulations Obama is working on would simply require that these instances be considered in the contracting process.

But of course, Republicans hate it because it would force the companies that fund their campaigns to disclose the influence they attempt to wield on politicans prior to bidding on contracts. In a trademark Republican spin, they even claim the order "unnecessarily politicizes the procurement process," and that it "could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of individuals to contribute to candidates of their choice."

Now aside from the fact that I love the idea simply because Republicans hate it, I must say this logic is hard to follow. The notion that full disclosure of money being spent on political activity somehow makes the process more political is ludicrous. The contracting process is already highly political, largely because there is not full disclosure of how much money corporations spend to influence politicians. But to claim that this could have a chilling effect on individuals' first amendment rights is just patently absurd. It is the first amendment rights of corporations at stake here, not individuals. Individuals don't secure government contracts. When individuals who work at, or lobby for, a particular company donate to politicians, that is a donation on behalf of a corporation (for the most part). THAT has a chilling effect on individual first amendment rights. The first amendment rights of individuals are stifled by corporations, who by virtue of the amount of money they can spend, effectively drown out individual speech. Individuals may have a right to free speech, but corporation can buy a metaphorical stage and loudspeaker to make sure their opinion gets heard louder and clearer than ours.

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