With public anger at Washington at a boiling point, it should be obvious that politics as usual is an obstacle, not an avenue, to democracy. Yet for the second time in a week, an important issue — disclosure of the vast amounts of cash being spent to influence this November’s election — is being bogged down in political posturing.
This serves no one, let alone the voting public, well.
The Senate’s Democratic leaders have brought up three issues they think will curry favor with voters this fall despite clear indications that the provisions were unlikely to pass the Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate rejected a defense authorization bill that included language to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allows gays to serve as long as they keep their homosexuality hidden — a clear violation of their constitutional rights, as a federal judge recently ruled. The bill also included a provision to allow some young illegal immigrants who serve in the military to become citizens.
Sen. Susan Collins was seen as the one Republican senator who might vote for the bill because she supported lifting “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it was considered by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.
She did not Tuesday, citing concerns about the process by which the bill came to the Senate floor. A strong argument could be made for putting principle — ensuring all members of the armed services are treated equally — above process. But her point is a valid one in this political climate.
Which makes the Senate leadership’s handling of a needed campaign financing fix all the more disheartening.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they’d like to influence elections, it is clear that congressional action is necessary to ensure that elections don’t become a matter of which candidate or ballot measure has the most money.
The Democrats’ fix, the Disclose Act, is flawed however, something that was clear this summer. Rather than fix the flaws, which include giving unions more leeway in campaign contributions than other groups, the Democrats are simply bringing up the same bill again. A vote is likely today. It is likely to face the same fate — a Republican filibuster that can’t be broken.
Like ending the military’s counter-productive ban on openly gay soldiers, campaign funding transparency should have been too important to become wrapped in political posturing. When political advocacy groups are “popping up like mushrooms after a rain,” as Marcus Owens, a lawyer who once led the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations, told The New York Times, it is time for Congress to step in. As Mr. Owens told the paper, many of these groups “will be out of business by late November.”
In other words, the Nov. 2 elections will be notable for the amount of money spent — with limited ability to track where it came from — to influence congressional and gubernatorial races.
That is a dubious distinction that could have been rectified by lawmakers — from both parties — more concerned with fixing problems than scoring political points.