As the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision approaches, the Sunlight Foundation has drafted the Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining Public Accountability in Campaigns Act (the SUPERPAC Act). This bill, if enacted, would be one step towards addressing the corrupting influence unlimited, secret SUPERPAC money has on our elections and our elected officials.
Unfortunately, Congress seems to have given up on efforts to shine a light on campaign activities that are financed by secret money flowing from corporations and unions. First, the DISCLOSE Act was largely derailed by congressional Republicans. Now, by failing to offer new legislation, both parties appear to have abdicated their responsibility to ensure our elections are transparent
We hope the SUPERPAC Act reignites the effort and that members of Congress will decide to stop serving their self-interest and start acting in the public interest by taking a step in favor of transparency. The SUPERPAC Act is designed to be a disclosure only bill, largely including the transparency provisions of the DISCLOSE Act while leaving out some of the bans, carve-outs and other provisions that made DISCLOSE controversial.
We encourage the public to comment on our effort so we have posted The SUPERPAC Act on PublicMarkup.org, Sunlight’s web site that allows anyone to help improve legislation we propose. Highlights of the bill include the following:
• Ensure disclosure of donors who fund independent expenditures and electioneering communications made by Super PACs or other 501(c) organizations. Donors giving to an organization for other purposes may remain anonymous if the organization establishes separate accounts for non-election related spending.
• Require real-time, online disclosure of all reports. Data must be in searchable, sortable, machine-readable formats and reports must include unique IDs for all filers.
• Require disclaimers (stand-by-your-ad statements) and identification of top funders in the ad.
• Require registered lobbyists to report their spending on independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
• Require all candidates and committees to file electronically with the Federal Election Commission.
The SUPERPAC Act is not a panacea for all that ails our elections today. It is a critical first step—one that will arm voters with important knowledge about who is paying for our elections. Other proposals to address the problem of unlimited secret money infecting our democracy include a constitutional amendment, legislation to give shareholders a voice in how their money is spent on elections, and public financing of elections. But, as the Supreme Court and Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have endorsed disclosure, the Super PAC disclosure-only bill should be the least controversial and most easily enacted of the many proposals.
In politics, the messenger is as important as the message. Voters have a right to information that will tell them whether the Super PAC that paid for an ad they just watched is tied to one of the candidates or was paid for by a corporation or union to whom the candidate will be beholden if he or she is elected. We hope with the new year Congress will return with a new resolve to take up the issue of transparent elections and enact the SUPERPAC Act.