web counter Media Lies: Are 527 orgs a good thing?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

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Are 527 orgs a good thing?

My readers know that I've been concerned about the impact that 527 orgs have on the political race. Now an article in National Review Online argues that they are good for politics and should not be restricted. I can't help but think that is because of the Swiftvets. Conservatives have to be ebullient about the effect this David has had on Goliath. Up until the Swiftvets entrance on the scene, 527 orgs had been overwhelmingly liberal and had bashed Bush unmercifully for over two years.

I must confess, the Swiftvets have forced me to rethink my position on the issue. What concerns me, however, is that my conservative bias is getting in the way of an impartial view of the facts. It's hard to separate one's political beliefs from one's opinions about things that significantly impact politics. When the 527s were pounding Bush I felt it was grossly unfair. Now that the Swiftvets have had such a significant impact on the race, I'm not so sure. I'm not naive enough to think that my change in opinion is completely objective, but having realized that the Swiftvets had a story that needed to be told, I'm also not jaded enough to think it shouldn't have been told simply because of the vehicle it had to occupy.

So what's the answer? It still seems unfair to me that anyone can produce ads that grossly misrepresent the truth. I'm also very concerned that extremely wealthy people like George Soros and Michael Moore may be able to influence the outcome of an election with clearly biased media productions. On the other hand, organizations that are separate from a campaign can do and say things a campaign never would. (Witness Bush's constant insistence that Kerry's service was honorable when the facts clearly say otherwise.)

I'm convinced that Bush's call to ban them wouldn't pass Constitutional muster. Short of an orgy of Congressional regret, which seems unlikely to occur, they are here to stay. Even if Congress did try to eliminate them, I suspect that both sides would fight ferociously in court to allow them to remain. Furthermore, free speech rightly precludes preventing clearly false ads from being aired, and freedom of association precludes disallowing the organizations from forming. So long as they fall short of the libel laws, candidates or their supporters have no recourse other than producing competing ads through their surrogate 527s.

It seems to me the only plausible solution is to require transparent reporting of their funding. All too often the ties between advocacy groups and their benefactors are hidden in a mist of phantom organizations. By requiring that all donations, regardless of size, be declared openly and publicly, the ability to hide behind shells and misdirection would disappear. Perhaps a further step would be to only allow donations from individuals and prevent corporations and other entities from supporting them.

One thing is certain. 527s have changed US politics forever. This may be the last presidential race in which the candidates raise enormous sums of money. Personally, I have given a great deal more money to the Swiftvets than I ever would have given to a candidate.

I think that is a good thing.