OUR VIEW: Who's behind that ad? A fair question

Bakersfield Californian, January 21st, 2012

Corporations are people. We know this because the U.S. Supreme Court told us so. The historic 2010 ruling meant corporations and unions could spend on political campaigns without limits. What followed that decision changed the nature of political campaigns in a profound and damaging way.

Huge donations such as those we now see so-called super PACs making in the presidential campaigns came to be increasingly common, creating outsized influence by essentially anonymous entities.

If super PACs can spend millions to influence our votes, shouldn't we know who's truly behind them? It's easy enough to find out by checking with the Secretary of State's office, but few voters actually do so. So they accept the simplistic names these super PACs invent, never bothering to investigate their possible motivation.

Now California lawmakers have an opportunity to do something about the situation: The California DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Los Angeles, would compel the sponsors of political advertisements on TV, radio, mailers or websites to prominently list the three main donors to the political action committee financing the ad. AB 1148 successfully passed through the Assembly appropriations committee last week.

Political ads that play fast and loose with facts are an ongoing problem in California. In 2010, moneyed interests spent more than $235 million on state ballot measure advertisements. Says the California Clean Money Campaign, which pushed hard for this bill, most ads were financed by groups of dubious origin that had benign-sounding names.

Take this group: Californians Against the Wrong Prescription, which spent $123 million to defeat a 2005 state prescription drug-discount program. Few knew, but its members were three huge drug companies.

Money will always be a part of U.S. elections. One of the few effective solutions we can come up with is this sort of transparency.

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