The Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss S. 2219, the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act of 2012” (The DISCLOSE Act.) Sunlight’s Ellen Miller is submitting testimony in support of the DISCLOSE Act.
We hope this hearing will put to rest all of the arguments against the bill. In dismantling 100 years of prohibitions against corporate treasury funds being used to elect candidates, the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case put a great deal of faith in the idea that disclosure will remove the taint of corruption from the new influx of cash. The majority opinion observed that the Internet is becoming the best way to hold politicians and influencers accountable. But, the Court created an entirely new spending regime for which no disclosure system is in place. For online transparency to perform the functions ascribed to it by the Citizens United ruling, Congress has to create new laws that reflect the new reality of expanded independent spending. DISCLOSE 2012 creates that system of transparency and as such should receive wide support from members on both sides of the aisle.
The DISCLOSE Act introduced earlier this year goes straight to heart of the problem: the lack of transparency for unlimited, dark money and the influence it has on our elections and our elected officials. The updated bill removes extraneous and controversial provisions that plagued an earlier version of DISCLOSE, instead focusing on what the public demands — transparency.
Specifically, the bill’s robust reporting requirements for Super PACs, corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations that make independent expenditures and electioneering communications will begin to address many of the problems wrought by Citizens United: It will shine a light on dark money; it will provide an enforcement mechanism to ensure that no foreign money is influencing our political process; it will allow citizens to determine the credibility of campaign ads based on the messenger as well as the message; and it will arm citizens with information about campaign funding before they go to the polls, in real time and online. The disclosure and disclaimer provisions of the DISCLOSE Act are narrowly crafted so as not to infringe on constitutional protections. The Act does not require organizations to disclose donors who have contributed less than $10,000 and allows groups to create a firewall that allows donors who do not wish to contribute to political activities to remain anonymous. At the same time, the DISCLOSE Act, for better or worse, does not put an end to concentrations of wealth being used in an effort to impact elections. Simply put, it does not chill speech. But the Act rightly and importantly shines a light on the dark money now infecting our elections and creates informed citizens and a more accountable government.
So far, the bill has the support of Senate Democrats. The issue of transparency in government is too important to become bogged down in partisanship, and we hope many more Senators on both sides of the aisle will cosponsor the legislation after Thursday’s hearing.