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House Democrats Introduce DISCLOSE 2012

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House Democrats unveiled The DISCLOSE 2012 Act (HR 4010, not up on THOMAS yet) today, a crucial step toward transparency to address the corrupting influence unlimited, secret corporate and union money is having on our elections and our elected officials.

Shortly before the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, the Sunlight Foundation drafted the Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining Public Accountability Act (the SUPERPAC Act), a streamlined disclosure and disclaimer only bill. We are pleased that on first blush, DISCLOSE 2012 meets the goals of our draft bill.

The bill will create robust reporting requirements for Super PACs, corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations that decide to make campaign expenditures. It will also require reporting of transfers by those groups to others making such expenditures, to prevent the money laundering that makes it easy to hide huge campaign contributions.

DISCLOSE 2012 will also require ads to contain disclaimers by the top officials of such groups, similar to the stand by your ad mandates required of candidates. In addition, shareholders and members of outside groups will be informed of campaign spending, and lobbyists will be required to report their spending on independent expenditures and electioneering communications.

When the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case, it hung its hat on the theory that systems were in place to ensure unlimited corporate and union spending would be disclosed on the Internet. The Court was, at best, naïve. Because the Court created a whole new kind of spending, there was no disclosure system in place. (And the moribund Federal Election Commission would never be able to create such a system through a rulemaking process.) DISCLOSE 2012 creates that system of transparency and as such should receive wide support from members on both sides of the aisle.

Early primary spending has demonstrated that previously unheard of expenditures will become commonplace and overwhelm the 2012 elections. At a minimum, voters have a right to know whether the Super PAC that paid for an ad they just watched is tied to a candidate, or was funded by corporation or union with very special interests. Candidates will know who is footing the bill for ads that support their candidacy, even if such ads are technically not “coordinated” with their campaigns. With DISLOSE 2012, the voters will know too.

Here is a statement from Ellen Miller on the bill, and see below for a redlined comparison of the version of the DISCLOSE Act that fell to Republican obstruction in the Senate in 2010.

We've taken the just-introduced 2012 version of the DISCLOSE Act and compared it to its 2010 predecessor (which didn't get cloture in the Senate.) This comparison is much rougher version that I would have liked to generate, but we had to scrape the 2012 version from a PDF and try to clean it up. That scraping and cleaning effort is far from perfect, so it may be difficult to read in parts.

Even with the mess, it's interesting to see what stayed the same and what changed. Once you get past the first 15 pages or so, all of which were struck out, it become apparent how the legislation has significantly changed. The black text is the original version; everything in red is what was added or deleted.

Redline of 2010 and 2012 DISCLOSE Act