Time to Relax about Super PAC Disclosure; Large Issues Are More Crucial Than Small Donors

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Time to Relax about Super PAC Disclosure; Large Issues Are More Crucial Than Small Donors


Byline: Paul Sherman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Super PACs have been the subject of intense scrutiny this campaign season, particularly regarding the sources of their funding. Many of these groups recently filed the second round of campaign finance disclosures with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). What have we learned after two rounds of disclosure? Nothing much of interest.

Surely, no one was surprised to discover last month that the pro-Rick Perry group Make Us Great Again got most of its money from wealthy Texans, or that the pro-Jon Huntsman Our Destiny PAC got most of its money from Mr. Huntsman's wealthy father. Neither should anyone be surprised to learn that the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC continues to receive large contributions from people in the financial industry.

However, it might come as a revelation that TV funnyman Stephen Colbert's satirical super PAC Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow raised a little over $1 million through the end of the January. Not bad.

The reform lobby, however, isn't satisfied. They think it's a scandal that - notwithstanding the fact that the information disclosed thus far has been mostly unsurprising and irrelevant to voters - we haven't gotten more of it, and sooner. They already are attempting to revive last year's failed Disclose Act, which would impose extensive new disclosure requirements on super PACs and nonprofit organizations.

The First Amendment generally protects the right to engage in anonymous speech and association, and such speech has been an important part of our national political dialogue stretching back to the Federalist Papers. Mandatory disclosure outlaws this important form of political participation. Given the stakes and the lackluster results of these recent rounds of disclosure, it's time to start questioning the reformers' mantra that more disclosure is always better.

There is little evidence that much of our current disclosure regime does any good. Under federal law, for example, the threshold for disclosure is $200. But does anyone really think the identity of a $200 contributor to a pro-Romney PAC tells voters anything useful? At best, disclosure at so low a threshold forces voters to wade through irrelevant information. At worst, it amounts to little more than voyeurism, enabling anyone with an Internet connection to spy on their neighbors' political activities.

Furthermore, as this last round of disclosure showed us, even among large-dollar donors, there are few surprises. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson's support of the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future was the stuff of headlines for weeks before it was required to be formally reported. …

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