Campaign Finance Transparency is More than a Band-Aid


New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal just blogged about the Obama campaign’s recent letter to the FEC, calling for the Crossroads GPS c4 to disclose its donors. Rosenthal’s endorsement of transparency severely understates the importance of campaign finance disclosure, dismissing it as a Band-Aid.

Public knowledge of the money flowing into our politics is absolutely fundamental to public accountability in campaigns and elections. Without it, we can’t properly enforce our laws, choose who to vote for, maintain confidence in our democratic system, or deter or expose corruption in our democracy. Hardly a band-aid. More like a bomb shelter.

While it is nice change to see Obama associated with campaign finance transparency in any way, since he’s been almost entirely absent from that debate this year, it’s hard not to see this complaint backfiring. Priorities USA, which the campaign has announced it will cooperate with, is in the name of both a super PAC and a c4. So Obama’s complaint against Crossroads applies just as readily to the secrecy machinery set up to support his re-election.

In some ways, the President’s involvement with these outside groups raises even bigger questions, since cabinet secretaries and White House officials with real powers under the law are also helping the unlimited fundraising effort. The campaign’s assurance that these outside groups donations will be “disclosed as required by law” is laughable, since these are the same laws that Obama spent all of 2010 decrying as insufficient.

Campaign finance transparency is fundamental to accountability in our politics. We need the President to treat it as more than fodder for a fundraising appeal, and for everyone else to remember that secrecy in campaign finance is about something far more important than who wins the next election.