Friday, March 05, 2010

In elections, who's buying whom?

Michael Weisel, a Raleigh lawyer and law professor who represented a real estate agent Thursday in a complaint before the State Board of Elections that involved the difficulty of finding out where and how much the N.C. Association of Realtors had spent on local anti-tax campaigns, is trying to help focus attention on some big changes wrought by a recent Supreme Court decision.

Weisel brought along a complicated multi-colored chart that showed a dizzying array of connections between where the money began and where it wound up -- all legally reported, but in different places because the campaigns were in separate counties.

But the board didn't want to spend time Thursday on what changes the court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will require in state campaign law.

Weisel says it starts with a simple understanding: "All this board is going to have in the future is reporting," he warned the board Thursday, if I heard him correctly.

I asked him via email if that's what he said, and here's how he responded:

"Basically, the only enforcement mechanism that will be available to the Board is the ability to enforce substantive, timely disclosure of contributions and expenditures in the post Citizens United world. This disclosure will be complicated/obfuscated by the money trail outlined in the chart. You can (and people have) move money around to evade date specific reporting requirements.

"No one cares how much money was spent on an election 3 or 4 months after the election. Particularly what the losers are whining about."

I think he's right about this. The courts have made it difficult to regulate campaigns in so many ways because they often get wrapped up in First Amendment questions of free speech. But courts have regularly endorsed one key tool that regulators can use so at least the public will know who's spending how much to affect which elections: public disclosure requirement for campaign finance. It's an ugly way to put it, but the question is the same: Who's buying whom? Or what?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is easy to fix. If this person is elected he should not be aload to vote on any issue involveing a major contributor.

Anonymous said...

How long have politicians been cooking the the books when it comes to campaigan spending. This has been what politicians do. They assume the less fortunate or those not aware of the politiacal agenda will just continue to be misinformed and misrepresented. Capitialist only buy what is necessary to promote a capitialistic agenda no matter what it cost so who is going to stop the flow of campaign spending when the entire system is tinted with this.

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