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Shining Light on Money in Politics

By Katie Sparrow

RALEIGH - While state lawmakers have already taken up a flurry of legislation, this year’s session has been relatively quiet on measures impacting the ballot box. Although, there is one common thread for issues that have cropped up recently - money in politics. The role of cash in elections and public policy is a consistently sticky subject, often caught up in arguments between free speech and special interests.

Thus far in 2013 legislators have proposed gutting judicial public financing in both the Senate and the House, and last week Sen. Ellie Kinnaird filed a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which overturned limits on the amount of money corporations and trade unions can spend on elections.

Similarly, WRAL recently ran a story on the tricky task of following the economic interests of lawmakers, noting that many times our elected officials have a stake in the very companies their legislation impacts.

There is no silver-bullet solution for corralling special interests and ensuring the power of elections stays with voters. Some financial connections are inevitable and fairly benign. And considering that state lawmakers swear an oath of public service, they should be expected to do what’s right.

That being said, there are a few transparency steps that might help inform the electorate about the source of money in politics.

Right off the bat, North Carolina should require that candidates disclose spending more often and more effectively. Electronic disclosure of campaign spending would speed the transmission of reports to the public and ease the burden on the state to convert documents into a searchable database. Mandating disclosure more frequently for candidates, political action committees (PACs) and political parties, especially towards the end of election cycles, would also help improve accountability and weed out suspicious spending.

It’s not a new or innovative solution, but it’s certainly a start. And, given all the questions surrounding money in politics, getting more information in the format we’ve all grown accustomed to in the 21st century seems like the best bet.

We can only hope that our elected officials agree. 

Katie Sparrow is director of policy & outreach for the N.C. Center for Voter Education.