The City Council this week started to make good on pledges to tighten the noose on campaign finance rules, but they’re leaving behind one glaring loophole — independent expenditures.
If this past election cycle exposed anything, it was that despite all the restrictions on individual campaign donations, political action committees still enjoy a largely unwieldy landscape in which they can spend freely and with little oversight.
The mix of reporting agencies means different rules apply to different groups spending in various campaigns, which means much of the spending can fly under the radar, especially if the committees fail to report their expenditures in a timely manner, if at all.
The council took a strong step forward this week in directing the city attorney to draft options for monitoring and limiting individual campaign contributions from contractors and subcontractors who have business pending at City Hall. We do not minimize the importance of this, but independent expenditures must be addressed to prevent a sort of “black ops” of election spending in the future.
The courts have made it clear that political action committees and wealthy individuals are entitled to support or oppose candidates and measures largely as they wish. Money is speech, as the reasoning goes, and restricting independent expenditures impinges on those entities’ 1st Amendment rights.
However, the flip side of that right is transparency. The city must take steps to ensure the rest of us clearly know just who is supporting whom.