The following editorial appeared in the Sacramento Bee:
Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court began issuing decisions opening the way for ever more spending on campaigns, the Federal Election Commission is considering new rules governing public disclosure of campaign money.
That’s where you come in.
The six-member Federal Election Commission is asking the public to comment about rules governing whether voters can know which interests are spending how much to win over their votes.
The Federal Election Commission long has been one of the more dysfunctional agencies in Washington. It splits 3-3 on virtually all issues of any significance related to campaign disclosure. But in a moment of clarity in October, the commission agreed to ask the public to weigh in on the most pressing issue before it: campaign finance disclosure.
The deadline for filing comments is Jan. 15. A hearing on is set for Feb. 11 in Washington. This being the Federal Election Commission, nothing is particularly easy. Finding the location on the website where you can file comments is no small feat.
Commissioners Steven T. Walther, Ellen L. Weintraub and Ann Ravel are going out of their way to encourage public comment, including traveling the country trying to generate interest.
“We think it is essential to hear from anyone who cares about money in politics – especially citizens and campaign volunteers who have an equal stake in making our democracy work,” the three said in a statement. “Outside spending by groups that hide their donors increased from just $5 million 2006 to more than $300 million in 2012. Given this dramatic increase, the commission should consider based on public comments and testimony how to strengthen its disclosure rules so that voters know who is behind the messages intended to influence their votes.”
In a recent meeting with The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, Ravel, the former California Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman, said the Federal Election Commission had received more than 3,000 comments. We would hope that by the Jan. 15 deadline to submit comments, there would be many times that number.
As it opened the way for more spending on campaigns earlier this year, the Supreme Court noted that “disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption” because campaign spending reports can be available on the FEC’s website almost immediately.
“Given these developments in modern technology, what regulatory changes or other steps should the commission take to further improve its collection and presentation of campaign finance data?” the commission asked as it requested public comments.
No matter their party or political persuasion, voters should want to know the identities of contributors who are funding insipid television ads, mailers, robocalls and other propaganda designed to sway their votes.
The concept of asking the public for its opinion is novel in Washington, D.C. It’s one that should be encouraged. Instead of grousing about how big money controls elections, voters should offer their two cents. Who knows? It might influence the decision in a way that would be good for democracy.