Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Independent Expenditures and Candidate Ethics

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(The following is from Tim Risch and his wife Yolanda Risch concerning their reporting of campaign expenditures by individuals and organizations not directly controlled by the candidate.  I would add that it is of great interest which organizations favor the election of a particular candidate.  The 2012 Democratic National Platform advocated ending the influence of big money in politics, even if it required a constitutional amendment. - MG)

There have been suggestions that SpecialInterestWatch.org is misleading voters when we present campaign financing statistics that include both campaign contributions and independent expenditures together. We completely disagree and we want to set the record straight and explain why accounting for both candidate contributions and independent expenditures is necessary to understand the influence of money on the election process. We also have made a point to provide information our site specifically listing and distinguishing contributions, both cash and in-kind, from independent expenditures. 

Over the past 10 years, independent expenditures have comprised a significant portion of money being spent on elections. Many times, the amount far exceeds what individual candidates in elections have been able to raise themselves. Per the City of Sunnyvale Campaign Ethics Guide, "Unfortunately , independent expenditures have sometimes been used for nasty hit pieces on a candidate' s opponent." In addition, there are numerous instances where independent expenditures have provided misleading or false information that can improperly influence voters. 

While the rules for independent expenditures require that candidates not be involved in the actual timing, content, or details of the delivery of the campaign piece, it is not prohibited for the originators of independent expenditures to use information developed and provided by the candidate. Often, the independent expenditure will provide the same message, facts, and images used in a direct campaign piece from the candidate. Thus independent expenditures, while not controlled by the candidate, can have the same, if not greater influence on the voting public as a direct campaign piece from the candidate. 

The fact that independent expenditures do not originate or are not controlled by the candidate does not absolve the candidate from taking ethical responsibility for the integrity of its message. Again, from the City of Sunnyvale Campaign Election Ethics Guide, candidates shall "...not use or permit any dishonest or unethical practice which tends to corrupt or undermine our American system of free elections... ". Furthermore, candidates "...shall immediately and publicly repudiate support deriving from any individual or group which resorts, on behalf of my candidacy or in opposition to that of my opponent, to the methods and tactics which I condemn." 

Thus, independent expenditures can have the same impact, require candidates to exercise the same level of ethical oversight, and provide potentially the same conundrum with respect to perceived or actual conflict of interest as regular campaign contributions. To exclude independent expenditures from the accounting of campaign financing will not provide the public with an accurate picture of the election process. 

Tim & Yolanda Risch