Corporate spending and the risks of anonymous hate speech

Corporate spending and the risks of anonymous hate speech

What are the consequences of corporate speech? An ad running in a California congressional race may show the unintended results of a recent Supreme Court ruling.View the ad here

The ad was produced and aired by a new SuperPAC called Turn Right USA. It has drawn widespread criticism for its racist and sexist stereotypes, but defenders claim the underlying attack on a sitting LA City Council member now running for congress is fair.

Turn Right USA is a SuperPAC, a new political animal created not by the law but as a consequence of court rulings that have decreed that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts on campaign ads uncoordinated with any candidate. And what's more, because these SuperPACs claim they do not raise money for specific purposes, these SuperPACs do not have to disclose the source of their funds.

Turn Right USA is coy about their lack of disclosure. Its website insists "As a federal SuperPAC, Turn Right USA reports its receipts and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission as required by law. Donations and expenditures will be reported quarterly."

But go look at their FEC filing, and what you see instead is no listing at all of receipts.

For an ad with such stark content, we find it telling that no one will take responsibility for funding it. Is this how the Supreme Court envisions the future of election campaigns? Is this how political discourse should be conducted, anonymously and negatively?

Some commentators have claimed that the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling would have a limited impact, as the fear of negative publicity would restrain excesses of corporate political activity, (Target Corp's giving in a Minnesota race is often cited as an example). But if donors can support ads like this without disclosure, then where is the restraint? Absent meaningful disclosure of the source of corporate funds, Citizens United becomes a license to hide the names of the true donors.

Unrestricted, anonymous contributions to ads about candidates in the context of elections portend a frightening change in the political landscape. Illinois doesn't have another election scheduled until next March, but these kinds of ads could be coming to a race near you.