A new state campaign finance law passed late in the past session has already begun paying dividends in identifying the money behind an ad sponsored by a super PAC supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman. No law, however, can mandate the context missing from political ads that are needed for voters to make sound judgments.
The law requires that the names of the top five donors to a political action committee be identified as well as included on the bottom of television ads financed by the PAC. An ad critical of Attorney General Martha Coakley, like Mr. Grossman a Democratic candidate for governor, recently began running and had to be adjusted by its sponsoring PAC, Mass Forward. Under the provisions of the law, the amounts each donor contributed to Mass Forward must also be disclosed this week.
The five donors listed are four familiar contributors to Democratic candidates -- and Shirley Grossman, the candidate’s mother. PACs are required to operate independently of candidates, and in an interview with the Boston Globe, Mrs. Grossman said she did not discuss her actions with her son, adding that she believed he deserved more publicity.
The ad criticizes Ms. Coakley for failing to support Governor Patrick’s call for limiting gun buys to one a month, which is fair game. Her opposition is perplexing given that law enforcement authorities believe that this measure cracks down on gun traffickers who buy wholesale and sell retail.
However, the commercial creates the impression that Ms. Coakley is soft on gun violence when she has in fact been an advocate of strong laws on guns, and can proudly point to her "F" rating from the National Rifle Association as testimony to her credentials in this area. This is the context voters receive from news stories but not from partisan political ads designed to influence not inform. The new state law adds transparency to the super PACs -- a product of the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrific decision in the Citizens United Case that will further poison campaigns with partisan money -- but the law cannot undo their damage.