They Don’t Expect Us to Care About the Roberts Amendment

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This week something big is happening over in the Senate with Sunlight’s campaign to pass S. 482 – The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act – and we could really use your help. Senate offices won’t be expecting us to care about this issue or make phone calls …which is exactly why we need make them.

http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/pass482/

Two things have to happen for S. 482 to pass. First, the Republican and Democratic leaders have to agree on a time for a vote, and our lobbyist is working hard to get them to come to an agreement.  The second thing is where we really need people to make phone calls.

When the bill comes up for a vote, Senator Pat Roberts will offer an amendment that must be defeated. He will claim his amendment is about transparency, but to be perfectly blunt: it’s not.

Please call your senators to ask them to vote NO on the Roberts amendment to S. 482. We’ve made it easy for you. Just click on your senators’ names and follow the simple steps.

And here’s the rub. The Roberts amendment would violate the privacy of donors to nonprofit organizations by forcing their names to be made public any time the nonprofit decided to file an ethics complaint against a sitting senator. Think about it. You have a constitutionally protected right to free association. That includes making private contributions to whatever nonprofit organization you choose. The Roberts amendment would eradicate that right whenever an organization asked 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 or filing an ethics complaint. You better believe a lot of them will decide against filing the complaint.

This is bad for nonprofits, for charitable contributions, and its awful for transparency.

Please 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 privacy and transparency. S.482 is an important bill that provides voters with timely online access to critical information on senate campaign finances. The bill should NOT be derailed by an anti-transparency amendment.

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  • John Thacker

    While non-profits are not a part of government, you have to make fine distinctions. Simply making blatant statements like “Think about it. You have a constitutionally protected right to free association. That includes making private contributions to whatever nonprofit organization you choose,” is obviously going to make people wonder why their constitutionally protected right to free association doesn’t cover private contributions to politicians.

    I’m familiar with NAACP v. Alabama. But certainly spending money on a political campaign is a form of free speech, as at least parts of Buckley v. Valeo held.

    “It stymies transparency and accountability and protects corrupt incumbents. I find anyone who supports both transparency and this Roberts amendment to be shocking and hypocritical.”

    I feel the same way about McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on spending by independent groups, and to a lesser degree about spending restrictions in campaigns in general. (Not disclosure, just spending limits.) It prevents transparency and accountability, and protects all incumbents, including corrupt ones. If you restrict spending, then it’s very hard to unseat someone with the incumbency advantage. If you restrict issue ads by non-profits, it’s difficult to hold incumbents accountable for their votes.

  • Rebecca

    I find the Sunlight Foundation’s position on this shocking and extremely hypocritical. If I donate money to a politician or a political cause, my name and contribution is public record. This is a good thing – it aids transparency in government. Why should the same not also apply to the people funding political non-profits?

    • Two immediate points: this actually does not aid transparency in government and not all disclosure is good, or even constitutional.

      1) Non-profits are not a part of government. While there are disclosure requirements for non-profits, they do not extend to the disclosure of every single contributor to that non-profit. Disclosure rules, as in disclosure of campaign contributions, are supported — by Supreme Court rulings — by the notion that excess money flowing to politicians can, not just corrupt, but create the appearance of corruption. Thus, disclosure allows the public and enforcement bodies to determine the level of said appearance for themselves. Non-profits do not operate under the same circumstances as politicians and thus contributors to non-profits are given greater protection for their individual privacy and freedom of association rights. (see NAACP v. Alabama) Both currently and historically, people have given money to controversial organizations that, if revealed, may put them in danger in their employment or in their personal life. (Again, see NAACP v. Alabama)

      2) This “disclosure” is designed to block ethics complaints against senators! How is that supposed to increase transparency in government? Disclosure can sometimes be used as a cudgel to block action. In fact, that is, in many cases, why it is good. If lobbyists have to disclose their meetings with lawmakers, maybe shady deals won’t occur. If lawmakers have to disclose their campaign contributions, maybe they’ll be more hesitant about looking like they are serving their big contributors as opposed to their constituents. Or… if non-profits have to disclose their membership lists when submitting an ethics complaint, maybe they won’t submit an ethics complaint. Please explain how this increases government transparency and accountability. It stymies transparency and accountability and protects corrupt incumbents. I find anyone who supports both transparency and this Roberts amendment to be shocking and hypocritical.

  • Krempasky

    Is it enough to just say that disclosure has a chilling effect? Take that to its logical conclusion…