Another “Scandal” Demonstrates Why Further Disclosure is Overboard

Any entity that engages in politics is susceptible to criticism.   Today’s Politico has an article about a California race in detailing a candidate ‘s attack on his opponent’s super PAC (Campaign hits corporation donation):

PG&E, under scrutiny after a pipeline explosion this fall left eight dead, contributed $10,000 to a super PAC supporting California Democratic Rep. Howard Berman — a fact now on display in a two-page mailer authorized the campaign of Berman’s primary opponent, Rep. Brad Sherman.

“In 2010, PG&E’s failure to maintain their gas line resulted in a massive explosion and eight deaths in San Bruno, CA,” reads the two-sided mailer featuring a photo of firefighters trying to put out the pipeline blaze obtained by POLITICO. “In 2012, PG&E is spending thousands to elect Congressman Howard Berman.”

The article continues:

The mailer also accuses PG&E of failing to maintain its pipelines but ready to make political contributions. “But instead of spending money to make their pipelines safer, PG&E is donating to a ‘SuperPAC’ set up to elect Congressman Howard Berman.”

It would appear that both sides of the race, not to mention the general public, are aware of how much money was contributed by which corporation to which non-profit.  Both sides are also keenly aware of which candidates the organization supports.

However, Rep. Van Hollen re-introduced the DISCLOSE Act last week and House Democrats sent a letter yesterday to the Chairman of the House Administration Committee requesting a hearing on disclosure from non-profit entities (The Hill, House Dems push for oversight hearing on campaign finance):

In a letter sent Wednesday to the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Democratic members wrote the committee “should exercise its jurisdictional oversight on behalf of the American people” regarding campaign finance reform.

If all the information candidates and the public need to call out politicians about their associations (or perceived associations) is readily available, why are we doing the DISCLOSE Act song and dance routine again?

Additional disclosure requirements bring additional burden to the parties who want and need to be involved.  This additional burden makes participation in our democracy that much less appealing.

The time has come for the reformers to abandon the pretenses that they are ultimately helping democracy by trying to additionally burdening those who want to participate it.  Josh Kraushaar, in an article from Tuesday’s National Journal (The Case for Super PACS), pointed out that:

The dirty secret about most campaign finance reforms is that they’re designed to protect incumbents. By decrying the federal campaign rules making it easier for wealthy donors to donate big chunks of cash, good-government groups are unwittingly backing policies that protect current officeholders.

He concludes:

Those in power don’t want more money coming into the campaign process, because it threatens their hold on office. That’s why Obama’s campaign made such a big stink about super PACs. Obama’s lashing out against the Citizens United ruling was not out of principle. It was a recognition that the new rules threatened to upend the president’s competitive advantage.

The real “threat to democracy” is not the lack of a more overwhelming disclosure requirement for non-profits, but political incumbents entrenching themselves by making participating in the political debate less appealing.


The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.