During recent hearings on Enron by House and Senate committees, at least one cable TV channel displayed the total campaign donations that each member of Congress had received from the company as she or he interrogated the witnesses.
What a concept. Perhaps that bit of critical information had the effect of humbling some lawmakers in their drive to expose Enron's influence-peddling within the White House. It's difficult for those willing to take money from rich donors to throw stones at others who do the same.
But why stop there? Perhaps all media can provide a public service in revealing the potential conflicts of interest by lawmakers who take money for their reelection campaign with one hand but who vote in the name of public interest with the other.
While a small notice on a television screen doesn't tell the whole story about campaign donations, with some good judgment applied this practice of truth-in-soundbites could catch on and help expose Washington's not-so-little secrets.
Perhaps the Sunday news talk shows where members of Congress often can be seen chatting up their views on issues could start by flashing the relevant amounts of campaign contributions. Even highlighting the president's money sources when he's addressing issues of interest to those sources would give citizens key information as they form judgments about the country's best course of action.
Disclosing the facts of who's giving what to whom can help hold politicians more accountable. And it could even encourage greater transparency (read: honesty) in politics.
News outlets already tag politicians in many ways: by party, by various wings of a party, by state or district, by previous profession, by closeness to particular lobbies, etc. It's not a big leap to dig up data on campaign contributions and logically relate them to a politician's stand on issues. Journalists cannot be accused of bias in revealing one more piece of background that's on the public record.
With so much money now being collected for expensive political advertising, the media can no longer pretend that a politician's coffer-building is off the radar. And because members of Congress rigorously dig into the money trail of appointees to the executive branch, they shouldn't mind sharing the same spotlight.