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The antidote to money in politics: knowing its source

After the big U.S. Supreme Court ruling the other day, there were a lot of warnings that American elections are going to be taken over by (gasp!) corporations.

To which I thought: You mean, as opposed to now?

We got PACs. We got hard money. We got soft money. We got "issue" money. We got "independent" money. We got "527" money (don't ask).

Here in Florida, we have the Wild West — a money-laundering scheme in which anybody can put unlimited money into shadowy political committees, to influence elections anonymously.

So although this ruling does create new avenues for special-interest influence, it's just one more weapon.

(Besides, I hate to say it, but it was probably the right ruling. The law that was thrown out went too far, making it illegal for Americans to talk about elections before an election! That pesky First Amendment must apply even to those we don't like.)

Anyway, instead of wringing our hands, I have an idea.

Our best response as citizens would be to become more aware than ever of the role of money in political campaigns — to make it a part of our culture, something that we follow as keenly as sports.

Call it the "Consider the Source" campaign.

If a corporation decides under this ruling to start spreading around its money, that spending itself should become a campaign issue.

The candidates should raise it. The media should raise it. The public should raise it.

Even before this ruling, I was working on a fantasy about a "consider the source" movement in Florida politics.

For example, there is a fellow named Mike Haridopolos about whom you will hear a lot. He will be the next president of the Florida Senate. He also has a variety of these political "committees" that take money from interest groups and then move that money around, usually ending up in local legislative races.

In my fantasy, we pay attention to every dollar that Haridopolos and every other legislator with a committee takes in, Democrat and Republican alike. We track it like sports fantasy-league statistics.

And when we get a pretty postcard telling us to re-elect our own friendly Sen. Smith in our own district, paid for by the "Committee for Florida's Future and Cute Little Puppies," we should automatically know to cry out:

Consider the source!

If the money came from drug companies and nuclear-waste dumpers and electric companies, then the headline should say: "Smith Backed By Drug Companies, Nuclear Waste Dumpers, Electric Companies."

We should teach it in the schools, preach it in civic-club meetings, banner it on the front page, stress it on the air.

In a way, this is advocating even more "negative" campaigning, another way in which candidates and parties attack each other. It also would produce a lot of cynical instances of the pot calling the kettle black. But that's okay. In a contest between Democratic union money and Republican corporate money, at least we would know the score.

If we were starting from scratch, maybe we could write the rules differently. Some people are talking about an amendment to the Constitution — good luck with that.

But in the practical world, the Supreme Court has ruled. Money gets to talk. The only antidote to that kind of "free speech" is … more free speech that calls it out. As they say, knowledge is power.

The antidote to money in politics: knowing its source 01/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 10:58pm]
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