Who pays the bill?
Disclosure of campaign financing would clear picture on debate issues
Editorial for July 9
By Tony Staley
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.