Current Events Monday: Who Pays for Attack Ads?
It is nearly an impossible task to escape partisan political ads at this time of year. In fact, I sat down the other night to enjoy a World Series game and was caught unaware by a political ad regarding a Senate race in Pennsylvania, some 1600 miles from my living room couch. After sitting through the mind-numbing thirty second spot, I began to wonder, “Who pays for this kind of thing?” Come to find out, most candidates of all stripes utilize something called dark money.
The Federal Elections Commission has relatively straight-forward rules about political fundraising. Candidates and parties who are allowed to accept campaign contributions must report the names of those persons who donate at least $200 or more. Yet, some LLC’s and/or non-profits have found a loophole in FEC rules which allows them to “shade” the names of individual donors, thus making way for dark money. Both Republicans and Democrats use dark money, and each group yells at the other for doing so. Alas, the Department of Justice and the IRS rarely investigate supposedly apolitical or religious non-profits who make campaign contributions. Consequently, it is difficult to know who is paying for what when the paper trail goes cold.
One particularly interesting website, followthemoney.org, lists publicly known campaign contributions on a state-by-state basis. The numbers for 2022 are not in yet, but Texans spent about $295 million on the 2020 election, the most coming from a group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform who spent a little more than $16 million.
You can find out more about dark money and political advertising by clicking on this link: Follow the money: Who is paying for political ads? (msn.com)
What does this have to do with the gospel? A 13th Century Italian priest may give us some help. Thomas Aquinas was quite a bright-shining theologian and ethicist in an otherwise dark period in church history. While an accounting for Aquinas’s theology is too broad a task for this article, we find particularly help his teachings on moral corruption among the churches of his day. In a nutshell, Aquinas warned believers against busily categorizing the sins of others. Christians in his time were especially prone to point out the errors in others without taking a hard look at their own lives. Aquinas rightly pointed out that when we categorize our sins as “less bad” than those of our neighbors, we become legalistic and more concerned about ourselves than for the body of Christ.
In a time of less-than-stellar campaign advertising and dark money funding, Christians face an opportunity to defuse an otherwise barely tenable situation. If we can model for the world what it looks like to have grace rather than categorizing our opponents’ sins, then we may find ourselves at the center of a movement towards a more responsible and helpful democratic process. The vicious cycle of attack may be broken when we criticize and question ideas rather than attack the faults of others, as if we had none. Jesus himself taught us that merely calling someone a “fool” is a murderous act that comes from a hateful heart, deserving of eternal hell (Matthew 5:21-24). There’s not enough dark money that can get us away from the justice of God. Perhaps we can do something different with our money when the next election season comes ‘round.