Just the other day, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed SB163, a bill that wanted one simple thing- for political ads to bear the names of the individuals that paid for them.
Nothing too controversial- the bill was just making sure that people get to see who’s paying for the political ads they see. In case a voter wants to know who’s attempting to influence their vote.
And just in case, the bill had a nice provision that didn’t allow any political advertiser to lie, or mislead the public.
But Governor Deal saw a First Amendment problem with that. Or perhaps, rather, he saw a political problem with it.
The Governor, in his veto message, cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. the FEC – the case that allows corporations to spend as much of their money as they want on political ads, as long as they don’t coordinate that spending with the candidates.
But the Citizens United case has come to stand for so much more than what it actually stands for. It has become the bizarro bogeyman of free political speech, a scarecrow stuffed with cash, and raised and rattled whenever anyone suggests that openness and honesty is the best public policy.
It has been a key justification behind the Georgia legislature’s recent craving for campaign cash, and is now being cited to scare away a most basic element of honesty to the public- disclosure.
Forget the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case itself, on the issue of whether requiring disclosure was constitutional, ruled 8-1 that it is. That and more is in this Memo of the State Ethics Commission that already debunked this Scooby Doo specter which howls that Citizens United makes disclosure of political spending unconstitutional. (Check out Page 5 of the Memo, btw)
We here at Common Cause have also unmasked this myth of political opportunism over and over again.
Nevertheless, Citizens United has been exploited for a beacon of political activism. But it is not a beacon of light, because it slowly leads Georgians into a dark room, where multimedia political ads overwhelm their senses, but provide no way of knowing where the ad comes from. In this haunted house of political theatre, ignorance and money rule. And the bogeyman will jump out any time the public tries to figure out who’s behind the curtain. Just like it does now when we try to unmask the political spenders behind nonprofit organizations or independent political committees.
It’s high time that the First Amendment be used to enhance speech through disclosure, not mask speech with anonymity. We need honesty, not bogus myths trying to keep us in the dark.