EDITORIAL: Campaign cash

By NEMS Daily Journal

If you think the political ad blitz in the 2008 congressional campaigns was too much, get ready for an even bigger onslaught in 2010.
The one virtually certain result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week is that more money – most of it from corporations – will be spent in campaigns.
The court by a 5-4 margin ruled that restrictions on direct contributions from corporations to candidates violate First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The federal government and states will no longer be able to make a distinction between corporations and individuals in campaign spending restrictions.
The 2008 special election campaign for the vacated 1st District congressional seat in Northeast Mississippi drew national attention from both parties and an advertising spending spree. This year’s re-election campaign of incumbent Democrat Travis Childers and announced Republican challenger Alan Nunnelee – others may follow – is likely to get the same focus, and now with fewer restrictions on spending.
The outcome will be greater influence by special interests over elections – including labor unions, to which the court ruling also applies – at the expense of individuals. Regardless of the validity of constitutional arguments that corporations are “people” and entitled to the same rights as individuals, that will be the outcome since many big corporations have huge sums available to put into campaigns if they choose.
Money is already overly influential in politics and governance. It will only grow more so with this decision.
Thankfully, the court did not rule against campaign contribution disclosure laws. If anything, this likely new infusion of special interest dollars into campaigns will require more public vigilance in determining who is giving to whom. The right to free political expression doesn’t guarantee its privacy, except of course when it comes to the secret ballot at the polling both.
Mississippi has seen injections of large sums of outside special interest money into several of its election cycles over the past decade without full disclosure of the contributors. The new status of campaign finance will require a thorough examination and strengthening of disclosure laws to ensure that the public knows the interests to whom a candidate may be obligated.
A major source of the current discontent with our political system revolves around the perception that when policy is formulated the influence of special interests and their lobbyists is often out of balance with considerations of the greater public good. This court ruling won’t do anything to alleviate that perception, and could worsen it.
Only candidates and officeholders, by tangible demonstrations of independence from undue influence, will be able to counter a new surge in cynicism about money and politics.