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Judge H. Lee Sarokin

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Let's Keep Political Contributions Secret -- From the Candidates

Posted: 11/15/11 05:15 PM ET

As a result of the Supreme Court's decision allowing corporations to enter the political arena and buy elections, there has been a clamor for transparency identifying contributors and supporters. I have this crazy notion that it might make more sense to opt for secrecy -- not from the public but rather from the candidates -- substitute concealment for disclosure. People (and now corporations) support politicians either because they agree with their positions or because they seek influence or possibly a combination of the two. What is corrupting about money in politics is that major supporters expect and frequently receive something in return. How else does one explain the frequency of contributions to both of two rival candidates?

Suppose we could set up a system in which the candidates could not know who contributed to their campaigns. Rather than demand disclosure -- prohibit it. Contributions are made in two ways: 1) direct to the campaign, or 2) indirectly in support of the campaign. As for direct contributions, contributors could send their payments to a clearing house identifying the candidate for whom the monies are intended, and the moneys would be forwarded to the campaign without any disclosure of the source. The financial limits probably could be lifted. As to indirect contributions, such as TV ads and the like, the backers would be prohibited from disclosing their identity. All contributors would be barred from disclosing their contributions to the candidate directly or indirectly. A candidate would be required to swear as a condition of taking the oath of office that he or she had no knowledge of any person or corporation contributing or spending more than "x" number of dollars (i.e. $5000 or $10,000) on behalf of the candidate.

There would be no infringement on any First Amendment rights because speech -- the message -- would not be infringed or impeded in any way. Individuals and corporations would be free to advertise, promote support or oppose any candidate -- just not get credit (or benefits) as a result. (I recognize prohibiting disclosure of identity could be a free speech violation, but it might be worth a shot.) I have no doubt that such legislation is virtually impossible to pass, because an obvious result would be an extraordinary reduction in contributions. And why is that? Because so many contributions are made to gain favor, and that is exactly what is wrong with the system. So much of our legislation is adopted or opposed based upon special interests, and those special interests exert so much power because of their political contributions.

So although I recognize this suggestion has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it, something along these lines might actually save us from the corruption of money in politics. I welcome other suggestions. Every day we hear of outrageous legislation proposed or opposed to favor or protect some industry or group to the detriment of the general public. Only one word explains it -- "money"! Denying candidates or elected officials knowledge of the identity of their contributors or supporters may dry up the well of contributions, but it may also purify our political system -- and our water too!