The importance of disclosure

Voters need to know where money for political campaigns comes from to make informed decisions.

Melanie Williams

Campaign finance regulations have the potential to either help or severely hinder our democracy. Loosening these restrictions would allow financial contributions to be made to private interest groups and campaigns without those contributions being adequately disclosed to the public. Stricter regulations would allow for more transparency in the democratic process.

The battle over these regulations affects many Minnesotans, but nothing will be more affected in the coming year than LGBT rights and anti-gay rights as we lead up to the November 2012 election, during which a proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution will be up for vote. This amendment would constitutionally define marriage as between one man and one woman in the state.

As gay marriage becomes one of the most hot-button political issues in America today, estimates regarding how much money will be spent campaigning around this amendment are in the millions. In 2008, when the gay marriage battle was raging in California, interest groups on both sides fundraised and spent a combined total of more than $80 million to promote their viewpoints. Considering the involvement of national organizations, the total spent on MinnesotaâÄôs battle could be comparable.

In recent reports, anti-gay rights groups, particularly the National Organization for Marriage, have opposed disclosure regulations, stating the belief that disclosing their financial contributors will lead to undue antagonism or retribution against the donors.

However, in a day and age where corporations are considered individuals and campaign contributions are considered protected speech by the Supreme Court, politics can even influence someoneâÄôs basic decisions about what to consume. A citizenâÄôs right to know where campaign dollars are coming from outweighs any discomfort the donating parties may feel about having their identities disclosed.

ItâÄôs vital that residents of Minnesota know where this money is coming from so they are able to make informed decisions as voters and consumers. As voters, itâÄôs critical to know which contributors are connected with election campaigns and government officials. As consumers, itâÄôs important to know which corporations and subsidiaries are supporting the efforts of each side.

MinnesotaâÄôs Campaign Finance Board recently voted not to tighten their regulations until further campaign finance research has been done. While this is a temporary decision, failure to enact more open disclosure policies in the future would mean, in the context of the marriage amendment debate, that any advertisement that did not explicitly tell voters to vote âÄúyesâÄù or âÄúnoâÄù on the amendment would fall outside of current mandatory disclosure laws. This would provide a big loophole for interest groups to slip through.

If youâÄôre a voter in Minnesota with a vested interest in the marriage amendment debate, you therefore have another reason to keep a close watch on campaign finance decisions and to take action towards campaign finance reform in the state. If the only reason for loose restrictions on campaign donations is to keep donors from being antagonized for their actions, then there is no basis for the lack of transparency currently plaguing the campaign finance system.

We simply cannot continue to legitimize this roadblock to the free flow of information critical to our democracy.