Today may be a bellwether day for transparency in federal elections. The House is expected to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, Congressional legislation designed to counteract – through greater transparency – the new corporate and union money that will be used to try to influence elections and elected officials as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.
The outcome of the Houses vote is uncertain. Democratic leaders think they have they votes to pass the bill, but last minute pressure on wavering lawmakers by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business may jeopardize its passage. Their implicit threats to punish those who vote for the bill take on an almost surreal quality in this context and place Members in a Catch-22 situation. The Chamber is in essence telling Member of Congress, “kill the bill that would disclose the funding behind election ads or we will run election ads against you, that, if the bill fails, will be paid for with funding from secret sources.”
The bill goes far to ensure that the money behind the political activities of corporate, union and shadow groups will be online, available for public scrutiny, in real time. As voters, it makes a difference whether the money behind a political ad paid for by a group calling itself “Clean Water, Clean Jobs ” comes from environmental advocates or big oil companies. A voter who is skeptical about the environmental movement will respond differently to that ad than someone who has just returned from a stint cleaning oil off of pelicans in the Gulf Coast, but only if they know who the messenger really is.
Sunlight worked hard on an amendment to make sure the information about who is paying for elections would be available on a single database on the FEC’s website in real time. But to win that battle and lose the war will be devastating to the cause of more transparent elections. With the Chamber, NFIB and other powerful special interests working hard to kill the DISCLOSE Act, we need your help to tell your elected officials that you want to know who is paying for the election. Please call your representatives and urge them to vote for the DISCLOSE Act.