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Dark Money Disclosure Would be A Big First Step

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Columnist Ezra Klein today dismissed the DISCLOSE Act as “a minor piece of legislation” that would not tackle the true problem of wealth corrupting our political system. While Klein accurately synthesizes Sunlight’s argument that the “one percent of the one percent” wield a disproportionate amount of political influence due to their ability to pour money into elections and threaten to do so, he comes to the wrong conclusion about the value of the DISCLOSE Act.

The bill’s opponents—Republicans in the Senate who filibustered the bill even though a majority of Senators supported it—recognized the importance of the legislation and went to great lengths to protect the identity of the secret corporate donors who are funding their shadow campaigns.

Yet Klein shrugs off the DISCLOSE Act’s demise because the bill “would not have gone nearly far enough.” It’s true, the bill could not disarm a lobbyist who uses the mere threat of a million dollar ad campaign against an elected official. But outside groups are likely to spend almost a billion dollars on political activity in 2012. A billion dollars in dark money buys a lot of access and influence. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed, voters would have known which special interests had paid for the kind of access and influence that a billion dollars buys.

Utopian thinking is not an unreasonable approach to address the problems resulting from a Supreme Court willing to define money as speech and corporations as people. At the same time, a first step should not be dismissed because it doesn’t stretch all the way across the finish line.