Money in politics out of control in SC, US

Special to the Packet and GazetteJune 23, 2012 

As the John Edwards trial ended without a decision on five of the six counts, the pundits are surmising that the jurors' inability to act more decisively is at least partly due to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court's decision that campaign contributions are expressions of free speech.

Also in the news these days is the estimate that the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama campaigns will spend $1 billion each to try to win the presidency. This too is attributed at least in part to Citizens United.

The question that comes to those of us who are proponents of campaign finance reform is: What measures can be taken to change the current system?

The League of Women Voters of the U.S. is taking action in various ways.

It filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case that challenges the assumptions in the Citizens United decision.

The league also has set up a campaign finance task force that has examined proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution in order to rectify the consequences of Citizens United. The task force has not recommended support for the proposed amendments, because it concluded that they "illustrate the complexity of the issue, the risk of unintended consequences, and the difficulty of crafting precise language in the form of a constitutional amendment."

We do advocate passage of the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 that would require financial disclosure for all campaign ads.

We're joining with other organizations to petition President Obama to appoint five new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission, which has not been enforcing current campaign finance law.

The League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area supports these efforts.

South Carolina needs to pass its own reforms as voter confidence in our elected officials is at a new low.

So what are changes we can make to South Carolina laws that keep elections from just being fundraising competitions?

John Crangle, executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina, recently spoke to the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area and made it clear that one action needed is the prohibition of "leadership PACs," political action committees associated with a state official.

The state Senate has prohibited leadership PACs, but the House of Representatives has not. Crangle told us that the Palmetto Leadership Council, which is closely affiliated with S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, gave contributions to many candidates for the state House of Representatives and state Senate.

According to an article in The (Charleston) Post and Courier on April 29, the Palmetto Leadership Council also appears to have been involved in steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in contract work to sitting legislators and their families.

We commend state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort for voiding the contribution that was given to him by the Palmetto Leadership Council.

The League of Women Voters supports strong disclosure laws and laws that allow voters to know who elected officials work for and what they do in their job. With fewer than 50 percent of our citizens regularly voting, we need laws that create more voter confidence and trust in elected officials.

Political campaigns are for the public good and require full public support. We need a carrot and stick approach: some form of public campaign financing and tough rules on political gifts and lobbying to prevent special interests from subverting the public interest.

Both citizens and political leaders must take responsibility to create new systems that can substantially change the money and politics equation in favor of the people. Join the League of Women Voters in demanding action in Washington and in South Carolina.

Karen Wessel of Hilton Head Island is president of the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area and Fran Holt of Bluffton is vice president.

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