Special interest groups are spending five times as much on this year's midterm elections as compared to 2006. Many of their donors can't be traced. Congress must require disclosure.
Every election season seems to bring a new money machine that’s primed and ready to spend big on campaigns. In 2008, it was the collective, Internet-driven offerings of small donors who supported Barack Obama. This time, it’s the spending power of special interest groups that are separate from the official party fundraising system.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to tell where many of the donations come from.
Four years ago, almost all donations from interest groups were disclosed, including donors’ identities. This time, because of the popularity of a type of nonprofit known as 501(c) for its tax status, less than half of the spending is traceable back to donors. The tax code doesn’t require donor disclosure from these nonprofits.
Whether money flows to Democrats or Republicans (and the interest groups heavily favor conservatives this time), record spending undermines American democracy. At a minimum it reinforces the appearance that money influences votes.
Just as harmful is when voters can’t see who is behind the money that is behind political ads. “Transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages,” the US Supreme Court found in a landmark campaign finance ruling in January, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Even as eight of the nine justices upheld the idea of disclosure, the court’s 5-to-4 court majority did open the floodgates to election spending by corporations, unions, and other special interest groups.