Senate Democrats unveiled their version of the DISCLOSE Act today. (We wrote about the House bill, introduced last month, here.) Senator Whitehouse was joined by approximately 35 of his Democratic colleagues on legislation that has been described as a pure disclosure and disclaimer bill, with none of the controversial provisions that caused the DISCLOSE Act to fail in the Senate by one vote in 2010. The Senate’s laser-like focus on disclosure and disclaimer provisions mirrors Sunlight’s recommendations in our draft Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining Public Accountability Act (the SUPERPAC Act). By focusing on disclosure and disclaimer provisions only, with no carve outs for select groups or bans on certain types of contributions, the 2012 version of the DISCLOSE leaves opponents of the previous bill with little or nothing to object to--unless they believe our elections should continue to be paid for by dark money.
Specifically, 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 ads to contain disclaimers by the top officials of such groups, similar to the stand by your ad mandates required of candidates.
Voters have been bombarded with campaign ads largely paid for by outside groups, with much of that money totally undisclosed. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, while touting the importance of disclosure, created a system in which money laundering could be used to funnel unlimited secret money into our political system. The DISCLOSE Act is a crucial step to address the corrupting influence of that money on our elections and our elected officials.
Senator Schumer has promised to hold a hearing on the bill in the Rules Committee next week. It will be interesting to see how his colleagues, including John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Lisa Murkowski and others who have expressed concern about the impact of the Citizens United decision, will react to this leaner version of DISCLOSE. We hope they recognize that the bill does nothing more, and nothing less, than lift the cloud that has been obscuring money in politics so that all citizens can know who is paying for our elections.