The election's winner? Big money

November 19, 2010

Now that the election is over, the tallies are in, and the numbers are shocking — and no, I'm not talking about the votes. I'm talking about the record-breaking amounts of anonymous money poured into campaign coffers by shadowy front groups like American Action Network and American Future Fund. American Action Network spent over $16 million on electioneering in 2010 but did not disclose where a single penny came from. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent over $31 million, but they also did not disclose their donors. They are not alone. The percentage of organizations disclosing their electioneering communications donors has fallen from 97 percent in 2004, to 34 percent in 2010, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Thank the Supreme Court. In case after case, including the landmark Citizens United vs. FEC, they have chipped away at barriers between corporate influence and democratic elections. While some may applaud the court's ruling for bestowing every American, from BP to your grandmother, with the right to anonymously spend millions of dollars on elections, the ability of foreign and domestic corporations and unions to launder large independent expenditures through front groups is just another way the voices of individuals are being drowned out.

Action is being taken to mitigate this. Congress has a second chance to pass the Disclose Act, which would require groups to identify their donors. And in Maryland we are lucky enough to have a similar package going to the General Assembly, introduced by Sens. Jamie Raskin and Brian Frosh, which would guard our local officials from anonymous smear campaigns and pay-to-play politics. I hope Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will understand the need for these protections and use his extensive experience in the General Assembly to advocate for passage of these important bills.

Jessica Sharp, Laurel

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