It's Hypocritical To Hide Behind 'Disclosure'
I t is no secret that many Republicans and the right-wing think tanks that support them are ferociously opposed to public financing of elections, preferring instead to allow private wealthy special interests to control our elections and our politicians after they are elected.
Republicans in the General Assembly have defunded North Carolina's public financing program for Council of State elections and ended a pilot program for elections at the local level.
Last year, former Charlotte mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory voiced ads against public financing that were paid for by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by many of the same special interests who don't want to lose the influence their campaign contributions buy them.
Both the politicians and the think-tankers on the right rail against the clean source of money that public financing provides as "welfare for politicians," and traditionally have had only one response to questions about campaign finance reform and the widely held view that wealthy special interests have too much say in who gets elected.
The folks on the right tell us that complete and immediate disclosure of campaign contributions is the answer, that voters deserve to know where a candidate's funding is coming from and can make their decisions on how to vote accordingly.
Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall told The Associated Press recently that increased transparency is a tool like an X-ray that helps identify the problem of big, private money in politics, but does nothing to address it.
Hall is right. Politicians need a source of campaign funding that comes without strings attached, but they are not likely to get it in North Carolina with the Republicans in control of the General Assembly.
And despite the repeated assertions by Republican leaders about the need for total and immediate disclosure of campaign contributions, don't look for more transparency in political giving anytime soon either.
Rep. David Lewis, the House Republicans' point person on election laws, is the latest conservative politician claiming that he favors more disclosure over providing a clean source of money to pay for campaigns.
But Lewis and his Republican colleagues voted this year to slash the budget of the State Board of Elections that processes campaign finance reports and makes the data available to the public on its website.
State Board Director Gary Bartlett says the board has never had the resources to keep up with the campaign reports and a recent audit confirmed it. Bartlett recently told the Greensboro News & Record that two things would have to happen for the board to catch up with all the reports filed.
Staff would have to be doubled and candidates would have to be required to file their campaign reports electronically.
Lawmakers have refused to pass a law mandating electronic reporting and many legislative candidates still send in paper copies of their report, often filled out in barely legible handwriting.
Those reports have to be keyed in by hand to be posted on the board website to give voters the information that Republicans say they deserve.
Then there's the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that not only allowed corporations to spend money influencing elections, but also made it possible for people to give money anonymously to groups that pay for commercials against candidates for office.
Efforts in Raleigh and Washington to require disclosure of those contributions were bottled up by Republicans, the folks who claim to be so committed to transparency.
The truth is that most Republican political leaders like the campaign finance system just the way it is.
The more special interest money they can raise the better. The less we know about where it comes from, better still. There's nothing democratic or transparent about that.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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