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Disclosure the answer to Citizens United

A new poll released last week shows that the inevitable backlash from the annoying robocalls, the recycling bins of glossy mailers and incessant TV attack ads has begun.

It seems voters don’t like them and they’re blaming the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that restricts limits on corporate speech.

According to the poll by Bannon Communications Research, a Democratic polling firm, nearly 9 out of 10 Americans believe there is too much corporate money in politics and 3 out of 4 think there should be public funding of political campaigns and a ban on big donations (big was not defined).

Don’t hold your breath.

The chances of another case that would overturn Citizens United reaching a Supreme Court that has a majority of members willing to restrict corporate speech is unlikely in the next decade, if not the next couple of decades.

Besides, Citizens United was the right decision (as well as the Buckley v. Valeo decision it was based on, which equates money with speech). The government should not be determining who can participate in our version of democracy.

And money isn’t the problem. It’s almost impossible to buy an election these days. Voters have too many sources of information available to them to be overly influenced by any deep-pocket political campaign. Is any voter willing to raise their hand and admit to being duped by some shrill TV commercial in an age of TV, radio, cable, email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

Moreover, there is ample research showing that voters are rarely persuadable. They instead make emotional and irrational decisions when choosing candidates, which means most of the money spent trying to influence them is wasted. But that’s beside the point.

The problem with Citizens United is not the money, it’s the secrecy. While the ruling opened the corporate money floodgates it also revealed a disturbing level of cowardice among our nation’s wealthy.

Too few of them apparently have the courage of their convictions and would rather hide behind the skirts of 501(c)4 corporations, creating a new term in the political lexicon – dark money.

It’s money that is being funneled through tax-exempt organizations that don’t have to reveal their funding sources because they’re not subject to existing campaign finance disclosure laws. Those organizations then donate the money to fly-by-night political committees which are often responsible for paying for all those ads disparaging candidates for office that we’ve all come to hate.

The backlash against those ads shouldn’t be against the system that allows it or the money that paid for it but against the person who paid for it.

The solution to pernicious political ads is not a ban on corporate speech; it’s compelled disclosure of the identities of anyone who wishes to spend money to affect an election.

People or collections of people (corporations, unions, etc.) should be able spend all the money they want to get their message out about matters of public importance, including who they think is a good candidate for public office.

But they should have to put their name on the check.

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