Shedding some light on politics and government

    If the Supreme Court is going to let special interests buy elections in America, I think we ought to at least know who they are.

    It was dispiriting to see more than $300 million spent in elections last year by outside groups, many of them legally hiding their donors.

    According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more outside money in 2010 came from conservatives than liberals. In 2008, the liberals had the upper hand.

    We’re increasingly seeing secret contributors in state elections, including judicial contests. If nothing changes, it’s only a matter of time before it creeps into our mayoral and city council races.

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    Fortunately there are some efforts underway to at least make those producing attack ads, robo-calls and slash-and-burn mailings reveal their donors.

    I wrote yesterday about President Obama considering an executive order which would compel companies seeking government contracts to disclose their political contributions.

    Now U. S. Rep. Chris Van Holland is suing the Federal Election Commission to shed some light on previously secret donors. The Maryland Democrat says the FEC erred when it issued regulations allowing non-profits to shield their donors when they produce “electioneering communications,” ads or mailings that refer to people running for office without expressly advocating a vote.

    You’ve seen those ads that tell you to call Congressman so-and-so and tell him to stop rustling cattle. I’ve long believed that if the FEC had showed more gumption in enforcing campaign finance laws, we’d all be better off. Read about Van Holland’s suit here in Politico.


    In another development on the transparency front, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican is pushing to get funding restored to the Electronic Government Fund, a federally-financed program that runs transparency websites for the pubic. Funding was cut in the recent budget deal. Read about Issa’s plans here in the National Journal.


    And on a local note, I was puzzled earlier this week by an email from the campaign of Stephanie Singer, who’s running as a reformer to replace longtime incumbent Marge Tartaglione on the Philadelphia city commission, which runs elections.

    Tartaglione is one of the elected officials who took a six-figure lump sum payment under the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, then ran for re-election rather than retiring. The Singer campaign email challenged Tartaglione to clarify whether she got $288,000 from the DROP plan, or $308,000.

    This was puzzling because a DROP payment is a public record, readily accessible through the city pension board. It turns out the campaign is in a silly dispute with Daily News reporter Catherine Lucey, who pointed out that the campaign had been using the wrong number on some materials.

    Rather than correct the number, the campaign seems to have prolonged the argument and taken it public with the confusing challenge to Tartaglione. An odd choice, for a candidate who needs all the media attention she can get. Lucey explains the dispute and the origin of the two numbers here.


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