United Citizens Moving Forward

OSPWendy Kaminer writes a good editorial in the June 8 Boston Globe regarding the Citizens United v. F.E.C. ruling. It is a good read. She points out that most of the big donors to campaigns are not corporations but wealthy individuals. Kaminer reminds us of the  McCain-Feingold law, which parts were overturned by Citizens United, criminalized showing a documentary on pay-per-view television 30 days before an election. Many bemoan “Citizens United”, however, the ruling was good for freedom of speech—especially on the internet.

Imagine if a documentary about a candidate for public office was banned from YouTube during the election season? The SCOTUS majority that struck down this provision in McCain-Feingold was keen about the convergence of television and the internet. They said,

“Rapid changes in technology—and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression—counsel against upholding a law that restricts political speech in certain media or by certain speakers. . . . Today, 30-second television ads may be the most effective way to convey a political message. . . . Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking Web sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues. Yet, §441b would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds. The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” (Opinion of the Court p 49.)

Kaminer is also correct when she states that those who disparage Citizens United could be manipulative, “[Turning] this complex ruling to a political symbol helps aspiring reformers raise funds and aspiring Democratic presidents organize support.”

Indeed, don’t believe the hype.I think it is a horrible irony that the phrase “citizens united” has turned into such a ubiquitous negative political symbol. Citizens uniting is a good thing and just what our country needs at the moment. Kaminer adds, “Ordinary citizens can’t play with super PACs; nor can they make maximum allowable direct contributions to federal candidates ($2,700 per election). But they can pay membership dues and make modest donations to liberal and conservative advocacy groups that speak on their behalf, virtually all of which are incorporated.”

BINGO with that last sentence! This is what the Open Source Party is about—using the tools provided by the internet to bring voters together.

Shine A Light

Citizens United was also good on transparency. The group Citizens United complained to the court that they should not have to disclose their donors. They said that disclosure has a chilling effect on some donors. I bet it does! If you don’t have the civic courage to give money in broad daylight, then keep your wallet—and your mouth—shut. The court said that disclosure is in the public interest and the group Citizens United could not conceal their donors.

We need to have rules in federal electioneering that give the name, occupation and state of the highest donor to a campaign at the end of every ad—instead of the smokescreens that campaigns and independent expenditures hide behind today. Unfortunately, the GOP run Congress does not favor better disclosure laws.

But why wait for a new law? Just check out the proposed OSP bylaws.

Article 5, Sec. 7;

Candidates are responsible for their own campaign public disclosures and must follow all state and federal laws including campaign contribution limits. If a candidate or elected official receives a donation in excess of $250, it must be disclosed via a tweet from their official Twitter account within 3 days of receipt. The tweet must use the hashtag #osparty and include the donor’s name and donation amount.

Sec. 8, Open Source candidates and elected officials must post their received contributions on their website monthly in a format that makes it transparent for citizens to review.

I hope this offers a glimpse into what we are trying to do with the OSP. We believe that the political system in the United States is out of balance. Obsessing on certain court rulings could be counterproductive. As you can see from part of our bylaws, we are trying to create political change by means of an open and free internet. Let’s move forward!