Former NC candidate for Treasurer lays out “five myths about campaign finance”

Image: Matthew Leatherman for NC Treasurer Twitter account

In case you missed it and can get to it, check out an essay penned by Matthew Leatherman that ran recently in the Washington Post. Leatherman, as you may recall, is a former employee of the state Treasurer’s office who ran in the Democratic primary for that office last year.

In “Five myths about campaign finance,” Leatherman shares some important insights that he gained during his campaign and in recent weeks in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection — some of which may surprise you.

Number One, for instance, is his take on the old aphorism that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” This, sadly, he says, is not always the case:

In a letter this month calling for greater campaign finance disclosure requirements, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) quoted Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous phrase, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” A 2017 article in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems titled “Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant: Public Disclosure of Electoral Advocacy in Union Member Communications” argued that disclosure requirements would allow “voters to understand more fully which moneyed interests are supporting candidates behind closed doors.”

But this works only if sunlight-exposed information comes to the attention of voters — and if they care. When I ran for office last year, I was heavily outraised by the candidate who went on to win our primary. Nearly half of his initial fundraising total was a loan he made to his campaign. But even though this information was freely available and just a few clicks away, the only person who seemed to know these facts was me.

When President Donald Trump’s false statements about payments to Stormy Daniels were exposed, it may have hurt his reputation, but it didn’t meaningfully diminish his electoral prospects or his standing with most Republican voters. It hasn’t led, so far, to any liability on his part for alleged violation of campaign laws.

The other four “myths” Leatherman busts are:

  • Small-dollar donors are the face of democracy.
  • Companies quit politics after the Jan. 6 riots.
  • Candidate can refuse certain types of donations.
  • Money is a form of speech.

In each of his takes on these propositions, Leatherman does a great job of raising some hard truths about modern American politics in this era in which super-rich plutocrats play such an outsized role. Readers would do well to follow him on Facebook and keep an eye peeled for future insightful commentaries.

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