Money talks in politics, and voters should always know who’s doing the talking and who’s paying for it. That’s the overall mission behind a campaign finance proposal sponsored by state Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton and backed by Common Cause of Massachusetts. The bill, which passed the House last month, would require super PACs — committees that can spend unlimited amounts of money on independent political advertising and campaign activity — to regularly report how much money they spend supporting specific candidates. At the last minute, as the Senate Ways and Means Committee considered the measure, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest union, tried to weaken it by targeting a provision requiring political action committees to disclose the top five donors behind their television ads. (The committee is expected to report out a bill Monday.)
The attempt to undermine this provision shows exactly why it and the overall bill are both needed. Influential corporations and labor unions like the option of anonymously underwriting political campaign activities. But voters have a greater interest in knowing where the money spent supporting a candidate is coming from and how much it might influence future votes and decisions.
More money than ever is pouring into campaign coffers, ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to eliminate all fund-raising restrictions for independent political groups. The Citizens United v. FEC ruling and subsequent decisions allow unions and corporations to raise unlimited sums of money and spend them to support candidates, as long as they don’t coordinate directly with the candidate.
Unlike individual candidates, political associations, unions, and corporations can easily get around the existing disclosure requirements for their spending. In Massachusetts, this campaign finance bill would peel back the curtain on such spending and at least let voters know the source of a candidate’s money. Lawmakers shouldn’t let the MTA or any other group thwart that goal.