Magic Words Snub Reality

The famous “magic words” in elections are those the US Supreme court decided mean someone is advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate. They are phrases like “vote for” and “elect candidate X.” But using phrases like “Candidate X is a no good son of a gun” right in the middle of election season is excluded from campaign finance protections. Making these kinds of specific word distinctions is like making it illegal to punch someone with your fist, but if the person happens to punch someone with their elbow, then they’re in the clear. The US Supreme Court, and more recently the Colorado Supreme Court, completely disregards the subtlety of language.

Scot Kersgaard at the Colorado Independent published an article yesterday highlighting this issue and also doing a great job dissecting the two paths Big Money takes in Colorado – one for each major party.

Democrats give through so-called Super PACs, which make their records public on a sometimes delayed but regular schedule. Republicans, however, lean toward a maze of difficult-to-track 527 committees. The 527s give the money to other committees, which often pass the money on to yet more committees, which eventually buy campaign ads. What’s more, the people on the right who give the most cash also often use multiple versions of their names on public records, making the money they give even more difficult to tally.

Add to that rules adopted by the Secretary of State’s office in March that could allow many of these 527 committees to avoid most reporting requirements and you have the makings of an interesting election season. Where in the past 527s were difficult to track, in the future it may simply be impossible to follow the money. [Colorado Common Cause just sued Sec. Gessler to get these rules overturned. You can help us do things like this by contributing. ]

Some of those interviewed say that we can’t stop the flow of money into our politics, so we should just give up. We don’t agree. But it is a talking point used to hide the real reason for the opinion, wealthy interests immersed in the status quo benefit from allowing Big Money to reign.

The bottom line is that money corrupts. You can’t argue with the logic that spending the kind of money that gets someone elected or defeated means that those spending the money have more influence over our elected officials than their constituents. Sometimes the elected officials themselves aren’t able to see how they are being influenced, being caught up in the day-to-day of campaigning. But when those donors call after they’re elected, you can bet they won’t be sent to voicemail. They get access the rest of us don’t. This evokes images of puppets on strings for me. And those strings can get very short. If voting against their funders’ interests will mean losing the next election, human nature says you better fall in line.

The ins and outs of how the money travels from its origin to the advertising in your living room are complicated. But the reason its spent and hidden isn’t.

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