How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash – The Washington Post

For several years Trevor Potter has been helping Stephen Colbert demonstrate the absurdity of campaign finance law through the creation of Colbert’s “super PAC.” (On November 12, Colbert dissolved his PAC.)

Now, Potter has written an op-ed piece telling us that we shouldn’t blame the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision for the excesses of this year’s election spending (“How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash“). We’ve written a little about Colbert’s Super PAC in the third edition of the textbook and in a blog entry. In addition, I’ve argued that the impact of the Citizen’s United decision will not be as great as some people feared. Still, the flood of money into the political system casts a shadow over the fairness of our elections.

According to Potter, the Citizens United opinion assumed that the contributors behind these political action committees would be rapidly disclosed in a way that allowed shareholders to hold corporations accountable for political donations and allowed voters to decide if elected officials are indebted to donors. This unraveled when the FEC’s permissive rules allowed such close connections between candidates, political parties and political action committees that the “independence” of “independent expenditures no longer assured.

Potter makes clear the degree to which there is a problem in both parties:

We saw candidates travel or meet privately with the individuals who provided 90 percent or more of the funding for some of the “independent” super PACs. Candidates could appear at their events, endorse their work and even solicit money for them. Mitt Romney spoke to a meeting of donors to a super PAC that supported him; a super PAC backing President Obama was run by two former White House officials and was publicly endorsed by the president.

As a former Chair of the Federal Election Commission, Potter knows the gray area of campaign finance law as well as anyone.. The FEC became a joke inside Washington long before Potter and Colbert let the rest of the nation in on the joke. When one of the watchdogs of democracy’s integrity is doubt, American democracy is diminished. The question is whether the President and Congress will work to fix the problem.

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