Congress is waking up to the reality of secret election spending. On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee investigated the sharp increase in campaign dollars coming from anonymous sources. President Obama has called this trend “a threat to our democracy” and pushed for reform. In a gridlocked Congress, there’s little chance for serious reform any time soon. But one step that’s been overlooked is the ways Obama could use executive action to force more disclosure.
In 2012, political spenders filtered more than $300 million through so-called “dark money” groups that hide their donors’ identities. That left Americans unaware of who was trying to influence their vote. In the 2014 cycle, dark-money groups have spent three times more than they did at this point in 2012, which is especially surprising since there is no presidential election.
Secrecy is becoming a fixture of American elections, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the Supreme Court legalized unlimited campaign spending in the 1970s, the justices praised disclosure as an answer to corruption concerns. In its Citizens United decision, the Court argued that full disclosure would let shareholders hold companies accountable. Instead, anonymous spending is now skyrocketing. But there is much that the president could do.