Editorial: Don't Move to Amend, toughen disclosure rules instead

November 27, 2012
Corvallis Gazette-Times editorial staff

November 15, 2012 9:15am

There were some surprises in last week’s election, but the Corvallis advisory vote on the so-called Move to Amend effort was not among them.

The last item on the Corvallis city ballot, the advisory question gave citizens a chance to weigh in on the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the Citizens United case. The measure, which passed by better than 10,000 votes – a 75-25 percent margin – advises city officials to spread the word that Corvallis voters support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying that corporations are not “natural persons” and do not enjoy the same rights that citizens do.

The amendment also would specify that money – in this case, contributions to political campaigns – is not speech.

The advisory measure was an easy sell to Corvallis voters, but we’re still not convinced that the Move to Amend effort is the best way to start to solve campaign-finance abuses.

At the heart of the Move to Amend effort is the court’s decision in the Citizens United case, in which it ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. (The Roberts court, if nothing else, has been consistent in its First Amendment rulings.)

Citizens United helped pave the way for the creation of super political action committees, super PACs for short, through which corporations and unions could make unlimited indirect political donations. That is to say, they could not contribute directly to candidates or campaigns, but still could spend money to support or oppose particular candidates or issues.

There’s no doubt that super PACs poured hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns this year.

It’s less clear, however, whether those big-money expenditures made a big difference in the 2012 elections.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, which has been tracking the issue, in 18 congressional races that attracted millions in independent spending, the candidate with the most outside funding won just half the time.

In the presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney held a big advantage in outside funding over Democrat Barack Obama — $408.5 million to $141.5 million — and you may have heard how that race turned out.

The top individual donor to super PACs, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, kicked in some $53 million to eight candidates, and all eight lost. (In any event, Adelson, as a private citizen, wouldn’t be affected by the Move to Amend effort.)

So we weren’t sold on the need for the advisory measure, or the constitutional amendment.

But there is something essential that the next session of Congress could do to help guard against campaign finance shenanigans, and it wouldn’t require getting 38 states to sign off on the amendment.

It’s time for Congress to get serious about transparency in campaign financing. Let’s close the loopholes that allow donors to hide in the shadows.

You might not remember that the Citizens United ruling not only upheld the disclosure requirements in federal campaign law, but also extended an invitation to Congress and the states to broaden those requirements. “Transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages,” the majority opinion found.

That’s an invitation that Congress should take advantage of in 2013.

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