So now comes the news that the owner of the Chicago Cubs has been pitched the idea of creating an anti-Obama ad campaign focusing on Jeremiah Wright – the minister at Obama’s former church who became controversial in the 2008 presidential campaign for exclaiming, “God Bless America? God Damn America!” You can read a report about it here. The notion is to spend $10 million during the Democratic convention to link Obama to Wright, concluding that Wright implanted terrible ideas about America in Obama’s brain, and thus that Obama can’t be trusted to be President as a result.
I don’t want to talk about the inherent inanity of this idea: the idea that Obama is a dangerous radical might have worked before he had been President of the United States for four years, after all, but it is unlikely to change any minds AFTER he’s been president for four years. Likewise, I don’t really want to talk about the racism embedded in this attack: others will, and the “black other” who must be controlled by whites is an old theme in American political life dating back into the slavery era (a point I have discussed before). And I don’t even want to talk about the way this issue demonstrates the outsized influence of SuperPACs in this election: really? One guy can just dump $10 million into an election and we’re okay with that? Really?
No: I want to talk about transparency. See, as disgusting as I think this plan is, I am thrilled to death that I KNOW ABOUT IT AT ALL. Just by knowing whose money it is, and what goals are behind, I can assess whether I find the message credible. I can put the ad in a context from which I can make a judgment. And that’s just wonderful.
One of the worst things about Citizens United, and about American campaign finance law more generally, is that it makes it pretty easy to hide who you are and what you want from the public at large. I can know what a person or donor wants – or at least I can guess. But what does “Americans for a great America” want? What does the “Better America” foundation want?
Alas, Citizens United and current Federal Election Commission inaction make it all too easy to hide interests behind happy labels. Who can be against a group (I just made up) called “Puppies are great!”? (Or “GET ALL THESE DAMN CAT PHOTOS OFF THE INTERNET” for that matter!?)
As a consequence, I don’t know what the people behind these groups want. I can’t make an informed judgment about them – or the candidates and causes they support.
So I’d like make a modest proposal. Eliminate all campaign contribution limits. They’re essentially a joke anyway. Instead, go for 100% transparency. If you create or give money to a SuperPAC or associated organization, you have to declare who you are. That’s all. You have to cite, by name, every donor and list the amount they gave.
That sounds like a pretty good deal to me: you get to give as much as you want. I get to know who you are.
And if you’re afraid to tell me who you are because you are giving to a cause or a candidate you are embarrassed by, well then let me offer you a piece of advice: don’t give the contribution.
Sunshine, they say, is the best disinfectant.