REFORM DEFERRED: A year ago, news leaked that President Obama was contemplating an executive order to require all corporations with a government contract to disclose political spending. The stated goal was transparency, but campaign finance reformers were particularly excited: because so many companies have a federal contract, the order was seen as a de facto DISCLOSE Act, which, if passed, would require all corporations to reveal political spending over $10,000. Unfortunately, that idea seems to be dead, at least for now. This month The Hill reported that the White House is unlikely to issue the order until after the fall elections at the earliest.
It’s important to recall that when Obama’s re-election campaign announced in February that it would support Priorities USA and other Democratic Super PACs, it pledged to work on campaign finance reform in the meantime. Indeed, Obama supports the current House and Senate versions of the DISCLOSE Act—laudable bills with no chance of passing before the end of the year because of GOP votes. Obama could make such change happen anyway with the stroke of a pen, but it’s now clear he won’t.
So what is the White House willing to do to create a better campaign finance system? Short of an executive order, Obama could try to force nominees onto the Federal Elections Commission, as good-government groups have urged. Alternatively, the White House could call for the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue rules requiring political spending disclosure—an idea at least one SEC commissioner supports. What the president shouldn’t do is simply support bills he knows won’t pass, while his Super PAC rakes in millions. GEORGE ZORNICK
SEARCH AND SEIZURE: On April 2 the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision to allow strip-searches of people arrested for minor offenses, concluding that safety concerns trump personal privacy. This means that anyone entering a jail’s general population can be strip-searched, regardless of whether guards have reason to believe he or she is carrying contraband.
The case stemmed from a 2005 incident in New Jersey, when Albert Florence was mistakenly arrested for an outstanding court fine (despite having proof that he’d paid it) and strip-searched twice before spending seven days in jail. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Steven Breyer called the searches in question “a serious affront to human dignity,” noting that they “involve close observation of the private areas of a person’s body.”
David Shapiro, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prisons Project, says strip-searches are “humiliating, disparaging, and oftentimes lead to abuse,” noting that the ruling will have particularly negative implications for people who have experienced sexual assault. For arrestees, he argues, “this is a moment in their lives when they are most vulnerable and most in need of oversight and protection.”
Several states have prohibitions on strip- searches in jail, but Shapiro worries that this decision could give them the prerogative to rewrite their standards, opening the door to unwarranted strip-searches for people arrested on such minor charges as jaywalking and speeding. LAURA BOLT
THE GOOD FIGHT: Hats off to John Nichols, winner of the 2011 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is being honored for his “career achievement as correspondent, blogger, social critic and book author in politics and media criticism,” a description that captures the indefatigable spirit of our prolific political correspondent. John’s talent and energy were on full display last year, as he reported from Madison, Wisconsin, ground zero in the war for labor rights. For his long dedication to forging democracy through journalism—in these pages and beyond— we are proud to call him our own.