Let’s start by being perfectly clear about Keith Olbermann’s suspension from MSNBC for his political contributions to Democrats. Being suspended “indefinitely” doesn’t mean forever.
Olbermann is one of MSNBC’s signature personalities, and his “Countdown” programs is one of the network’s flagships. It simply can’t afford to be parted too long from one of its biggest stars.
That said, it’s entirely appropriate for Olbermann to see some penalty for his transgression against NBC News policy.
Olbermann’s liberal colleague, Rachel Maddow, made the case for the policy Friday night on her own program.
Most journalists, almost instinctively, know that campaign contributions would create conflicts-of-interest, either perceived or reality.
I worked with a political reporter at a newspaper years ago who went so far as to abstain from voting, in pursuit of total objectivity.
Forgoing one’s citizenship in that way always struck me as taking things too far, but in all of my years as a professional journalist, I would never have thought to make political contributions.
Full disclosure: the contributions I did make, during the 2004 campaign, were made when I was working for the federal government, and thought my days as a working reporter were behind me.
I offer that disclosure because it’s the right thing to do.
I also offer it because you could easily check up on me to see if I’m telling the truth.
That brings us to the larger point, here. The good news is that we can so easily find out what contributions that I, Olbermann, or anyone else have made, and to which causes or candidates.
It’s all there, thanks to the Internet and federal disclosure regulations.
It’s easy to get online to see where candidates are getting their campaign funds. Just visit opensecrets.org, and start searching.
Reporters in Washington, and across the country, use this valuable resource in their stories every day. If Senator So-and-So, for instance, opposes a bill to hold BP accountable for its monster oil spill, it’s easy enough to find whether, and how much, the oil company contributed to that senator’s election campaigns.
Start with your own senators and congressional representative. Search their records, and find out which interests they might be beholden to.
But as completely open and transparent as campaign giving is for individual politicians, the total opposite is true for the money that funds the third-party attack ads, like those that washed over the 2010 campaign like a tsunami.
Powerful organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can completely hide where they’re getting their funds for, for these ads — even if the money is coming from wealthy foreigners seeking to influence American elections.
If you see an attack ad on television, you should be able to get online and easily search who put that ad up, and the interests that paid for it.
That’s the goal behind a bill in Congress called the DISCLOSE Act, which would open up these third-party attacks to public scrutiny.
The House approved the legislation — but at the urging of powerful special interests — Senate Republicans have kept it bottled up in a filibuster.
When Olbermann gets back on the air, he should apologize for his error — and make enactment of the DISCLOSE Act a nightly crusade.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as “The Good News Behind The Olbermann Suspension” on Blogcritics.