Real time transparency bill a real time response to McCutcheon

A view of the west facade of the U.S. Supreme Court building, full of grand columns set to a blue sky background.
The U.S. Supreme Court. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, responded quickly to the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in McCutcheon v. FEC today, announcing that he will introduce the Real Time Transparency Act of 2014, requiring 48-hour disclosure of so-called hard money campaign contributions of $1,000 or more to candidates, committees and parties. Disclosure will also apply to contributions to and transfers from joint fundraising committees. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down overall contribution limits, the only remaining pillar of our campaign finance system is disclosure. Unfortunately, our current system of disclosure is not up to the task imposed by the Supreme Court.

The majority of the Court said, “With modern technology, disclosure now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information.” That view should be correct, but the Court is living in a fantasy world if it thinks current disclosures are effective. Right now, we have a system in which the public must wait as long as three months before some contributions are made public; in the case of Senate candidates, even longer because candidates for Senate still file their campaign reports on paper, delaying disclosure by weeks after reports are due. Apparently the Court missed that critical fact too, stating, “Reports and databases are available on the FEC’s Web site almost immediately after they are filed.”

But disclosure could be vastly improved with relatively minor modifications to current law. That’s why we applaud King for introducing the Real Time Transparency Act of 2014. We are also pleased that Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, intends to introduce a companion piece in the House of Representatives. Disclosure won’t absolve our big-money driven system of all its sins, but if the Court intends to empower the merest fraction of our citizens to drown out the voices of the rest of us with massive campaign contributions, we should have a disclosure system that requires those contributions to be public within 48 hours. The candidates will know immediately who is giving them hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The public should, too.