, Newburyport, MA

December 23, 2013

A look at what others are saying

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The following are excerpts of editorials from other newspapers across New England:

The New York Supreme Court handed down a far-reaching decision, upholding the sanctity of a reporter’s right to protect the identity of a confidential source. In a 4-3 ruling, based on New York’s shield law, the High Court reversed a lower court’s decision compelling FoxNews reporter Jana Winter from appearing in the Colorado murder trial of James Holmes.

Winter wrote a factual story, based on information she received from confidential law enforcement officials, about a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist prior to the mass movie theater shooting in July 2012. In it, Holmes reportedly provided details and explicit drawings about how he intended to perpetrate a massacre. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 at a midnight showing of Batman in Aurora, Colo.

The facts of Winter’s story aren’t disputed but Colorado judge Carlos Samour ordered her to reveal her sources. Winter vowed that she would spend the rest of her life in jail before she would betray their confidence.

We’re beyond pleased that Winter won’t have to go to jail for doing her job and upholding a core First Amendment principle. But every American has a vested interest in holding people in power to account. That is only possible when a free, independent media can report facts, received from confidential sources, without fear of retribution.

New York has one of the strongest shield laws in the country. It should serve as a model for a federal protection.

— The Caledonian-Record of St. Johnsbury, Vt.

All politics is local, or at least that’s what we’ve been told.

But what if elections for state office were financed by national organizations and not local people or the candidates themselves? What if, after the election, state representatives, state senators and governors pursued an agenda that was cooked up by the same national groups that would not only pick the issues, but also supply “model legislation” and policy research?

That would make all politics national, and that’s the direction in which Maine is headed, thanks to a string of Supreme Court decisions that have radically changed the way that political campaigns are financed.

In 2012, more money was spent by “independent” groups than the campaigns of the candidates themselves in many cases. In one race, it was 11 times as much. It is impossible to say with precision where all of that money came from because the Citizens United decision of 2010 allows corporations, labor unions and individuals to donate without limit to groups that can, in turn, pour money into organizations that buy ads and deliver a message.

If the voters hear anything at all about where the money came from, it may be nothing more than an organization with an innocuous-sounding name like American Bridge 21st Century or Center to Protect Patients Rights.

Those groups, bankrolled by liberal George Soros and probably the hard-right Koch brothers, respectively, donated money that found its way into the 2012 state Senate race in Bangor (District 32) between challenger (now senator) Geoffrey Gratwick, a Democrat, and then-Sen. Nichi Farnum, a Republican.

This matters, not just for the outcome of an election, but also for what comes after.

The voters may not know what’s behind a group that spends independently, but it’s a safe bet that the office holders know where the money came from. These out-of-state groups are not investing in Maine elections just because they like our rocky coast: The ability to influence the makeup of a state Legislature can move national issues forward one state at a time.

This is one area in our divided politics where there is no partisan divide. Republicans and Democrats both receive the benefit of “dark money” organizations that spend to influence voters.

The Supreme Court allows unlimited contributions, but that doesn’t mean voters shouldn’t know who has an interest in the outcome of the election. Disclosure requirements on both the state and national level should shine some light on these “dark money” groups, before our local politics get completely lost in a national agenda.

— The Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Maine