Updated: April 2, 2014, 12:47 PM
In the Supreme Court’s new ruling striking down limits on the total amount someone can contribute to political committees or political candidates, the justices made a counterintuitive argument: organizations that make campaign contributions more transparent actually eliminate the need for the laws the Supreme Court just eroded.
The ruling specifically cited the existence of work from the Center for Responsive Politic’s OpenSecrets.org and the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ FollowTheMoney.org.
According to The Washington Post, the ruling is expected to affect fewer than a thousand wealthy individuals.
Page 36 of the ruling read:
Reports and databases are available on the FEC’s Web site almost immediately after they are filed, supplemented by private entities such as OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org. Because massive quantities of information can be accessed at the click of a mouse, disclosure is effective to a degree not possible at the time Buckley, or even McConnell, was decided.
And earlier the ruling, the court wrote:
Disclosure of contributions also reduces the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements, which are justified by “a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending” Citizens United, supra, at 367, may deter corruption “by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity,” Buckley, supra at 67. Disclosure requirements may burden speech, but they often represent a less restrictive alternative to flat bans on certain types of quantities of speech. Particularly with modern technology, disclosure now offers more robust protections against corruption than it did when Buckley was decided. Pp. 35-36.
That’s not quite how Edwin Bender, the executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics sees it.
“The transparency world that they seem to be envisioning is one in which the public really understands what’s going on and it doesn’t,” Bender told TPM on Wednesday. “We have a tremendous amount of work to tell the story about our political process, how healthy it is, and where the problems are. Our data is evidence that helps along that path but by saying ‘oh we have 21st disclosure now so the world is fine,’ just isn’t realistic.”
Bender added that that argument was “shallow.”
“I think it’s very shallow. I don’t think it’s realistic. The disclosure of our political process and our government agencies is not in the 21st century, we’re still in the 20th century and try as we might to get to where the justices think where we are, we’re not,” Bender continued. “We’re a long ways from it. We have a tremendous amount of work to do. And that’s just to get the base data in the disclosure to where it should be — the forms, the candidate filing et cetera. To then get to the point where the public actually pays attention or can pay attention. I mean there are a lot of interests out there that really don’t want the public to understand.”