Americans snooze while new campaign spending limits are forged in secret

The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:

This is the point to which America has evolved:

Congress – or a handful of congressional leaders, at least – wants to let the very richest Americans contribute mind-bending sums of money to political parties, far more than they’ve ever been allowed to give. They know such a proposal could never withstand a vigorous debate and an up-or-down vote.

So they craft it in secret, then tuck it on page 1,599 of a 1,603-page bill that all of Congress knows has to pass because it keeps the government from shutting down. The provision gets zero debate, Congress passes the bill, President Obama signs it, and the billionaires start limbering up their fingers to write the checks.

And the capper? Americans don’t know or care! Oh, sure, a little outrage from the talking heads in Washington comes and goes. But it’s not even a speed bump. The average citizen is either unaware of the change or throws up his hands and says, “That’s government for you.”

Congress and the national parties are riding your apathy all the way to the bank.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress passed and Obama signed this month allows an individual to give $777,600 per year to committees affiliated with the national political parties. That means a married couple could give $3,110,400 to these committees every two-year cycle.

That’s eight times the previous limit. Those donors will have the politicians’ ear in a way the average voter never will.

U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, voted for the bill. So did Republican Reps. Richard Hudson, Robert Pittenger and Patrick McHenry. Democratic Rep. Alma Adams voted no. Speaker John Boehner and outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appear to be the key negotiators on the provision.

Fred Wertheimer, a campaign finance reform activist, called the changes “the most destructive and corrupting campaign finance provisions ever passed by Congress.”

He points out that while some argue the most recent changes will reduce anonymous giving, the truth is any donor can remain anonymous by giving to certain 501(c) nonprofits.

Loopholes are allowing more secret money than ever to influence elected officials. This is where regular folks have a chance to shake off their apathy. The Federal Election Commission is seeking public input on new rules governing disclosure of so-called “dark money” political donations.

“Outside spending by groups that hide their donors increased from just $5 million in 2006 to more than $300 million in 2012,” three of the six FEC commissioners said in a statement. “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.”

You can comment at 1.usa.gov/1wwQEdJ through Jan. 15. Or you can stand by and watch the special interest money flow into Washington.

Tribune Content Agency