The full impact of an unfortunate U.S. Supreme Court opinion last year is already smacking Floridians in the face. Just as critics predicted, voters are being assaulted by a barrage of hard-hitting television ads that rip Democratic candidates and even a few Republicans — and they often don't know who paid for them. The floodgates are opened for big business and labor unions to spend obscene sums on these attack ads, and the least Congress should do is require instant public disclosure of who is paying for all of that television time.
More than a year before the 2012 general election, the invasion already has begun. As St. Petersburg Times staff writer Alex Leary reported last Sunday, the conservative Crossroads GPS spent $700,000 in June in Florida on an ad attacking President Barack Obama. A Crossroads Spanish-language ad aired in Tampa and elsewhere earlier this month that kept up the criticism. And last week, Crossroads GPS aired a second ad attacking U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat up for re-election next year. Priorities USA Action, created by a former Obama aide, is responding in kind with attacks on Republicans. Neither group discloses where all of the money for all of these attacks is coming from.
Blame the U.S. Supreme Court for the anonymously backed ads filling your television screens. The 5-4 opinion in Citizens United vs. FEC last year lifted a decades-old ban on corporations and labor unions directly spending money to support or oppose federal candidates. The expenditures still have to be independent of the candidates and campaigns, but there are ways around that. And as a result of the court opinion, the number of so-called super political action committees has ballooned. Many are organized under a section of the tax code that does not require their donors to be disclosed.
Crossroads expects to raise $120 million for 2012, and another conservative group whose creators include the Koch brothers plans to spend almost $90 million. And Obama, who criticized these anonymously funded fronts a year ago, has lost the high ground as he looks the other way while his supporters resort to the same deception.
The overreaching Supreme Court opinion has made it possible for corporations and the wealthy to drown out the free speech rights of others without being identified as the purveyors of these slash-and-burn ads. If voters have to be subjected to this hijacking of political campaigning, they ought to at least know who is paying for it.