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Campaign sleaze

Published March 23, 2012 1:01 am

Citizens United as election pollution
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Elections attract money like garbage attracts flies. Perhaps that's why this year's campaigns smell so putrid. The Supreme Court's rotten decision in Citizens United has made it possible for anyone with money to run an unlimited and opaque campaign for or against any candidate. That's why there is an avalanche of negative TV advertising and sleazy politics.

And why do rich corporations and individuals seek to influence elections? To buy the tax, spending and regulatory policies they want.

The most prominent local example is U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's re-election race. The Tribune reported the other day that FreedomWorks, a tea party super PAC (political action committee) that opposes Hatch, has disgorged $649,000 into efforts to deny him the Utah Republican Party's nomination. But five similar outfits that favor Hatch have spent even more. The biggest, Freedom Path, has spent $571,000. American Action Network has dumped another $200,000 into pro-Hatch efforts. Three smaller groups have pitched in about $100,000 between them.

None of this, of course, includes Hatch's official campaign, or those of his opponents, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and state Rep. Chris Herrod.

There are several problems with this rotten mess. The first is that voters and watchdogs, including the press, often can't tell who is paying for the mud-slinging, which erodes accountability. Donors and contribution amounts often are hidden.

Another is that the candidates themselves lose control of their own campaigns, or at least that's the way it appears. For example, The Tribune has reported that the political operatives who run Freedom Path have past associations with Hatch through an old senatorial campaign committee. But so long as there is no coordination between Freedom Path and the senator or his official campaign, what these independent guerilla fighters do is apparently perfectly legal in the aftermath of Citizens United.

Which brings us to a different political landfill, the Republican presidential race. The McClatchy-Tribune News Service reported the other day that businesses that have contracts with the federal government have contributed $890,000 to a super PAC, Restore Our Future, that supports Mitt Romney. For about four decades, federal election law has barred contributions from federal contractors to campaigns in an effort to prevent corruption. But after Citizens United, that now is a legal gray area.

Rather like sewage effluent.