Names, Names, Go Away

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.

About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
This entry was posted in Campaign Finance, Georgia Legislation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Names, Names, Go Away

  1. Bill Evelyn says:

    This was a ridiculously lunatic reason to veto this Bill. The 1st Amendment only applies to the Federal government. A state can do whatever they want regarding campaign donations. Nathan needs to study the Constitution more.

  2. Keith says:

    Common Sense was published anonomously. Individuals should be free to distribute political messages without revealing who they are.

  3. keith's responder... says:

    Keith- you just did! Your ability to post like this wouldn’t change. Your ability to lie about a candidate without telling us “Keith WHO!” Would have changed. Anonymous untruths are what keep some good people from running. No one wants to be attacked. If a candidate is going to be attacked, they atleast deserve to know by who. The people deserve that, too.

  4. Roger says:

    High praise to Senator Jim Butterworth for sponsoring this common sense bill. Georgians who work for good government appreciate his hard work.

  5. Bryce Farbstein says:

    I think there might be an interesting point raised above, which could call for a distinction- especially since you can’t tell the difference b/w truth and lie necessarily easily…- but i believe the distinction is the way it already is under federal law (and as proposed in the GA law)- namely, when the ad mentions a candidate BY NAME or as such that it is reasonably interpreted to advocate defeat or election of the candidate, then the ad sponsor must reveal their identity. but when the ad is purely issue-based then anonymity could be allowed. (but really, when do we see ads that are purely issue-based?) the policy of identity diclosure may be less compelling when it’s just a philosophocal argument on the merits of a given policy.

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