, Newburyport, MA


December 23, 2013

A look at what others are saying


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

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