Don’t Let Him Fool You

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When S. 482, The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, comes up for a vote in the Senate (and we are cautiously optimistic that using “when” instead of “if” is justified), Senator Roberts will offer an amendment that he claims is about increasing transparency. Don’t let him fool you. It’s not.

By requiring senate candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically, S. 482 will provide immediate, online access to critical campaign contribution and expenditure information, an obvious boon to shining more light on elections.

The Roberts amendment would make the names of donors to nonprofit organizations public any time the nonprofit decided to file an ethics complaint against a sitting senator.

The amendment would eradicate the constitutionally protected right of free association, including the right to make private contributions to nonprofit organizations, whenever an organization asks the Ethics Committee to investigate whether a senator violated Senate rules. The result? Organizations will be forced to choose between protecting their donors’ constitutional rights and filing an ethics complaint. Many will be left with no choice but to decide against filing the complaint. Fewer ethics complaints means questionable behavior by senators will go undetected. It does not create a more transparent Congress.

The prospect of imposing burdens on groups that file ethics complaints no doubt appeals to some senators. We hope they don’t succumb to the temptation of trumping real transparency for the sake of self-preservation. Call your senators and let them know that because the Roberts amendment would mean fewer legitimate inquiries into alleged violations of Senate rules, the amendment is antithetical to transparency.

Claiming the Roberts amendment is about transparency does not make it so. S. 482 is too important to be derailed by falsehoods made for sake of political expedience.

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