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Birthdays are usually a cause for celebration but we can’t help feel a little glum today.

It’s the fifth birthday of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. And as we feared, the legal decision hailed by supporters as a victory for free speech has opened up the floodgates of outside election spending with less transparency.

Elections today involve shadow groups who dominate the airwaves with attack ads and innuendo. Super political action committees can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. These groups, according to OpenSecrets.org, spent more than $600 million in the 2012 election cycle.

While super PACS are required to disclose their donors, other tax-exempt organizations do not. Spending by these dark money organizations accounted for nearly $300 million in 2012. Independent campaign expenditures went from $205.5 million in 2010 to $1 billion in 2012.

The Supreme Court in its ruling held that independent expenditures do not pose a threat to quid pro quo corruption. That might be true if all of the spending were transparent. But when millions of dollars flow through a maze of groups and organizations that operate like legal money launderers and campaign commercials drown out the voices of candidates, the potential for corruption — and for overseas money to influence our campaigns — is great.

This is not a conservative or a liberal issue. Both sides have used the court ruling to their advantage. But it must be fixed with complete transparency. If you want to engage in free speech, then come into the light. Any citizen who donates even a dollar to a candidate must be disclosed, but it’s OK for nonprofits to spend millions in secret. That hardly sounds like equal rights.

Unfortunately attempts to pass disclosure laws in Congress have been opposed by Republicans. So we’re left with elections influenced by big money without transparency.

That’s no cause for celebration.

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