Behind the Doc

Who are the political donors?

Posted January 18, 2011 6:47 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 8:09 a.m. EST

In the majority of political races, the candidate who spends the most money wins and most of the money is spent on television and radio ads trying to influence voters.

That’s why there are limits on how much money people can give political candidates. In North Carolina individuals can’t give any more than $4,000 to a political candidate and corporations can’t give directly to candidates at all. The reason is to keep wealthy individuals and corporations from using their financial resources to influence the outcomes of elections. The names of people contributing to candidates are also public to bring transparency to the process so the public, journalists and watchdog groups can look for relationships between financial contributions and legislation to make sure there is no improper influence.

One year ago, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that seems to undermine those protections. It allows individuals and corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money, anonymously, to non-profit organizations that can in turn spend that money to support or oppose candidates.

In our WRAL documentary “Who Are You?,” we examine the ruling and its impact.We chose to look at the Congressional race between Bob Etheridge and Renee Ellmers because it provides a clear illustration of how the ruling can affect a political race.

An organization called Americans for Job Security used anonymous donations to run television ads attacking Etheridge. Ellmers and her veteran political strategist Carter Wrenn both admit the ads helped her win, but neither of them have any idea who the donors are behind them and neither do we.

No matter what your political leanings are, that’s a bit disturbing in a democracy that depends on transparency in the crafting of public policy and in the election of the legislators who make that policy the law.

About this Blog:

Documentary producer and writer Clay Johnson provides some behind-the-scenes insight into the production of WRAL documentaries.