Transparency Takes a Hit

No matter who wins today’s elections, transparency in Virginia has taken a hit.

Some critics have called Virginia the “wild west” of campaign finance because state and local candidates are allowed to accept donations without limit. 

But Virginia’s disclosure-based system seems tame compared to this year’s federal elections. In the U.S. Senate race, candidates were outspent by outside groups – many of which could keep their donors a secret.

For instance, outside groups bought $58 million worth of ads in the state’s four largest TV markets. DETAILS More than half of the ads were paid for by secret money – leaving the public in the dark as to what person or what interests were behind the message.

Contrary to popular opinion, the so-called Super PACs are not the main culprit. While Super PACs can accept unlimited donations, they must disclose their donors. 

The real blow to transparency is the ability of so-called “social welfare” groups that are organized under a section of the tax code that allows them to participate in politics and keep their donors a secret. These groups have been in ascendancy for a decade, following the passage of 2002 campaign finance reform legislation. The law did not stem the flow of money into politics, but merely redirected it into shadowy, unregulated groups that operate beyond the reach of the Federal Election Commission.

No one will ever know who paid for $30 million worth of TV ads in Virginia. That’s the sad legacy of this election cycle.

Nov. 6, 2012