Turn on your television anywhere in Pennsylvania, and you won’t be watching for too long before you find yourself inundated with political advertising. I would say it’s just that time of year again, but “that time of year” seems like it keeps coming earlier and earlier each election cycle. Everyone complains about it, but year after year money keeps pouring into television ads, and we keep watching them.
Many of these ads are funded by “independent” organizations — organizations not directly affiliated with a candidate. This not only means they can say horrible things about an opponent that the candidate cannot, but it also means they can take gobs of corporate, union and even foreign money that is not disclosed. This “dark money” is making up a larger and larger share of political spending and, unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has said there is nothing anyone can do about it.
While state legislatures and Congress are free to make laws governing the raising and spending of money by political campaigns, for some reason the justices of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling has declared that your elected officials aren’t able to do the same when it comes to “independent expenditures.” This means corporations, unions, and any other special interest that wants to influence our democracy can do so without any disclosure, without any limits, and with virtually no restrictions at all.
READ MORE — David Lampo: Legacy media “fact-checkers” are all in on their own Jan. 6 narrative
But when the Supreme Court says that laws regulating such uninhibited advertising are unconstitutional, there seems to be little anyone can do to fix it. Thankfully we the people can. I’ve been working with the For Our Freedom Pennsylvania movement, a project of American Promise. This is an effort by everyday citizens to amend the federal Constitution in a very simple way. We simply want to give elected officials the authority to pass laws related to dark money.
The “For Our Freedom” amendment wouldn’t require the passage of such laws. It wouldn’t dictate to state legislatures what specific laws they would pass. But it would return to elected officials the authority they used to have — authority that was taken away by the courts — to respond to this influx of dark money influencing our elections with legislation.
When out-of-state billionaires can dump tens of millions of dollars into a so-called “super PAC” to influence an election and ensure that their preferred candidate wins, how are average Pennsylvanians supposed to make their voices heard?
As a retired Chamber of Commerce CEO with a long career of involvement in advocacy and campaigns, I know how important it is to be able to advocate for a causes and candidates. We should do everything in our power to protect that right. But when out-of-state billionaires can dump tens of millions of dollars into a so-called “super PAC” to influence an election and ensure that their preferred candidate wins, how are average Pennsylvanians supposed to make their voices heard? We have a system now that favors rich, out-of-state, and even out of country special interests over the peril of our own citizens.
I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that this is a problem — everyone knows it’s a problem. But it’s a problem no one seems to know how to fix, which is why I’m grateful for the For Our Freedom Pennsylvania effort. It’s a simple, straightforward answer to a significant, growing problem. The Supreme Court has ruled in 2010 that it’s not constitutional for legislators to regulate outside political spending. Our answer is very simple: Let’s make it constitutional.
David Black was the longtime president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC.