The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 30, 2000 Issue

Who pays the bill?

Disclosure of campaign financing would clear picture on debate issues

Editorial for July 9

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Debate over campaign finance reform must first focus on requiring disclosure information on who contributes to independent or quasi-independent groups sponsoring issue advertising. Such reporting should not seek to eliminate such advertising - indeed we should encourage more public policy debate. Rather, it should be done because the public has a right to know who is paying the bill for this particular debate.

As the Wisconsin Catholic bishops say in the second draft of their statement, "Renewing Participation in Public Life" (released in April), "the principle of participation suggests that citizens should be afforded latitude as to the means they choose to engage in policy debates. Accordingly, associations of like-minded citizens should be permitted to exhort other citizens to support or oppose candidates, policies, or ideas debated in public life. It is important, however, that such efforts do not overwhelm or supplant the message of other citizens, especially that of the candidates themselves, who by nature of their role in the process are compelled to address a broad range of issues. Nor should election laws subject those who donate to candidates to greater scrutiny than those who donate to groups who seek to influence election outcomes by donating to special interest organizations. Accordingly, we believe reasonable efforts to increase disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures need not interfere with free speech."

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees persons accused of crimes the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." In the same way, candidates for public office, voters and citizens deserve to know who is paying for issue ads. Disclosure of such information need not stifle free speech or stop debate. We, as a nation, deserve it.

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