Fitzsimon File

Special Interest Americans for Campaign Secrecy

You may have seen the latest television commercials blasting Rep. Bob Etheridge, Rep. Heath Shuler or Rep. Larry Kissell for supporting "Nancy Pelosi's liberal agenda." The claims are ridiculous, but there's nothing new about political ads trying to tie to local candidates to unpopular national politicians.

The ads don't just come from candidates' campaigns, they are also paid for by groups with innocuous sounding names like Citizens for America. That's nothing new either. Third-party ads run by out-of-state interest groups or national political parties have unfortunately been a staple of North Carolina campaigns for years.

Not many voters knew who paid for the ads, but in the past the information has been available if you are determined to find it, either on the website of the Federal Elections Commission or from the public interest groups that make the campaign finance information available and easy to understand.

That's not true anymore, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Americans for Job Security is running the ad against Etheridge and Shuler, but they don't have to disclose their donors and they don't.

The group's website says it is a "bipartisan, pro-business issue advocacy organization." It's probably just a coincidence that all the targets of its ads in North Carolina are Democrats.

The website also says it doesn't disclose its funders because "too often politicians or the media define an organization or message not by the merits of the argument, but rather by the perception of the people associated with it."

In other words, if we knew who was funding the ads, we might be able to understand the motivation of the people paying for them and consider that context when we see the commercial.

The executive director of Americans for Job Security told the Washington Post that the group engages in "grassroots lobbying and issue advocacy," not election activity. At the end of the commercial targeting Shuler, the ad includes the words "Vote against Heath Shuler" on the screen-which couldn't be any more clearly election activity.

Most Republicans and right-wing think tanks rabidly oppose public financing of political campaigns that clean up our election process and give people without access to wealth a chance to run for office. They claim that all we need is absolute transparency, that as long as voters know exactly who is funding campaigns they can make informed decisions about who they will support.

But legislation in Congress that would have forced groups like Americans for Job Security to disclose its donors was defeated in the Senate in face of Republican opposition. Apparently transparency is only a talking point for politicians on the right, not a policy they actually want to implement.

That means we are sure to see more ads this year from groups with pleasing sounding names that refuse to tell us who funds them.

Things were bad when shadowy national groups were running commercials trying to decide who was elected in North Carolina. But at least then we could find out who was half-hiding in the shadows and figure out their motives in their role in the campaigns.

Now the big money, out-of-state special interests have moved out of the shadows and into the darkness as they try to buy North Carolina elections. That's in nobody's interest except the people who refuse to identify themselves.

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