2013 is swiftly coming to an end. During this year, we have seen virtually nothing accomplished that helps the average American. Over 73% of Americans in a new poll state that this Congress has been the worst in memory! That says a lot. There are grumblings about income inequality. There are grumblings of stalemate in Washington. There are grumblings across the board from the ACA to Tax Loopholes. With 2014 being an election year, there are even some grumblings about the lack of transparency of election funding especially the so-called “soft money”.
Several states have passed “Voter ID Laws”. These are supposed to prevent the “widespread voter fraud” across the country. There have been less than 100 cases of voter fraud in total over the last six elections. Really widespread. But, the one thing that is not being addressed is the effect special interest groups are having on our elections. Since Citizens United, the real voter fraud in elections is special interest groups spending billions of dollars without having to disclose their motives, intentions, or sometimes even who they are for or against.
An FCC ruling in 2012 announced that commercial TV stations in the top fifty US media markets had to make available on-line data about who was paying for political advertising and how much was being paid. But, according to a new study by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation among the records newly available online, “TV stations often fail to report even the most basic information about the political ads that outside groups buy on their airwaves… There’s no way to total reliably how much is being spent for or against a candidate, or, in some cases, who is doing the spending. A systematic review of 200 randomly selected ad buys made by outside groups found that fewer than 1 in 6 ads targeting federal candidates disclosed the name of the candidate or election mentioned.”
“Such omissions deprive the voting public of important information. TV ad files have become an increasingly important tool for tracking otherwise undisclosed political spending by groups that run the gamut from well-known trade associations and unions to lesser-known operations whose innocuous names offer little information about the financial or political interests behind them: “Americans for Job Security,” for instance, or “Checks and Balances for Economic Growth.” In the wake of court decisions making it easier to route big money through outside groups, broadcast political TV ads jumped to an estimated $5.6 billion in 2012 — up 30% from 2008. Yet in spite of this massive payday, stations still find it hard to fill out paperwork about their benefactors.”
The weird part is that there isn’t even a standardized form to be used for these filings. As a result, omissions in the required documents abound. This is true for Republicans and Democrats, organizations affiliated with them, and other special interest groups. On top of this, the FCC rarely enforces penalties for failure to fully disclose.
Why? As journalist and former FCC adviser Steve Waldman has said, “When it comes to political stuff, there’s extra sensitivity at the commission because it’s the one area where Congress jumps up and down and says, ‘If you do that we’re going to come and slap you in the head.’” It has become so political, the nomination of Tom Wheeler as head of the FCC was temporarily held up by Ted Cruz. Seems Mr. Cruz would only allow a vote on his nomination if Mr. Wheeler agreed to make political ad disclosure “not a priority.”
Things at the Federal Election Commission are even worse. Remember, the FEC was established after Watergate and all the corruption of elections it presented. But bitter ideological warfare inside the commission, together with Congressional and White House indifference have led to an agency less able to fulfill its stated mission: to “prevent corruption in the federal campaign process by administering, enforcing and formulating policy.”
An analysis of thousands of records and interviews with more than 50 current and former commissioners, staff members and associates reveals:
- The commission over the past year has reached a paralyzing all-time low in its ability to reach consensus, stalling action on dozens of rule making, audit and enforcement matters, some of which are years old.
- Despite an explosion in political spending hastened by key Supreme Court decisions, the agency’s funding has remained flat for five years and staffing levels have fallen to a 15-year low.
- Analysts charged with scouring disclosure reports to ensure candidates and political committees are complying with laws have a nearly quarter-million-page backlog. Commissioners themselves are grappling with nearly 270 unresolved enforcement cases.
- Staff morale has plummeted as key employees have fled and others question whether their work remains relevant. Among top FEC jobs currently unfilled or filled on an “acting” basis: general counsel, associate general counsel for policy, associate general counsel for litigation, chief financial officer and accounting director. The staff director doubles as IT director.
More than four years after the Citizens United ruling, the FEC has not issued any rules that interpret that decision. Plus, the White House and the Congress has failed to help with any regulatory assistance or increased funding for the agency. During the government shutdown in October, with the exception of Presidential Appointed Commissioners, all 339 staff employees were furloughed! This was shortly after an independent auditor commissioned by the government warned that the FEC’s information systems were at “high risk” to infiltration — a charge the FEC roundly disputed, saying its “systems are secure.” This “high risk” was confirmed by three government officials including the Department of Homeland Security who were conducting an ongoing investigation.
To show just how bad the infighting has become, Frank P. Reiche, a Republican who served as an FEC commissioner form 1979 to 1985 said “The commission just seems to look inward and almost wonder aloud if a decision has an ideological impact, and if so, they shy away from it,” “It’s sad — very sad — and the agency is almost doomed to failure for carrying out its statutory mission unless reform measures are implemented and adopted by Congress.”
Is it any wonder that Eliza Newlin Carney writes in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “Perhaps invariably, elections continue to march toward less transparency and more deregulation, and lawmakers and federal agencies remain too paralyzed by discord to respond… If 2013 is any indication, the next wave of big money will draw plenty of headlines but little regulatory response.”
So, as you can see, the real “Voter Fraud” is not who shows up at the polls to cast their vote, it is the special interest groups and PACs that are the true fraudsters. By hiding in shadows, using open threats on voting records, and hidden agendas, they have quietly, or not so quietly, been buying elections to favor themselves.
We don’t even always know who is behind a particular candidate. We don’t know from where they are getting their contributions, or particularly from where the “soft money” is coming. That opens the door for corruption of the highest form. What backroom deals are being brokered for candidates to get this backing? The only way democracy really works for the voting public is through transparency of the election process. Citizens United brought that to and end. The Grover Norquist’s and Koch Brothers are the true winners in all of this. And, since corruption can affect all governmental departments, that is voter fraud at its worst.