There is a dangerous and specious argument afoot that says big money political advertisers should not have to disclose their identities.
While money does not appear to have been decisive in the high profile elections where profligate spenders Carly Fiorini and Meg Whitman were defeated, it may be that the very public nature of their profile prevented the overwhelming spending from being effective. Secretive spending in lower profile cases may have been effective, but absent disclosure, we will never know. Moreover, as a long time media owner/operator, consultant, and researcher, I can tell you that the money is smart and will learn from its mistakes. They will correct their errors, refine their processes, and reach their goal of exercising anonymous influence in the market of ideas, and over an unsuspecting electorate. This strikes me as patently un-American.
Fear of undue influence and unscrupulous behavior is precisely why the Federal Trade Commission demands identification of commercial sponsors. We decided long ago, and properly, in my estimation, that “truth in advertising” was a basic consumer right. We banned outlandish, unsupported claims, outright lies, and the anonymous wielding of the huge power of advertising. Why in the world would we demand less of something as critical as our political speech?
The fear of reprisal argument that disclosure opponents are proffering is a red herring. The plutocrats–that is people whose power derives from their wealth– suggest that if their identities are known, they risk personal, potentially violent, reprisal and commercial boycotts. But simply put, the public’s right to know trumps any advertiser’s professed right of anonymity. When you enter the public square, you do so with the knowledge that speech has consequences. Not wanting to endure the consequences of unpopular speech is not reason enough to be allowed to act anonymously in the public square.
The fix is also simple: require the 501(c)(4) organizations that bundle money for the Super PACs to disclose the identity of their donors. It’s the American Way.