Transparency bills could offer easy wins, but will Congress bite?

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Members of Congress return from their summer vacation next week with the expectation that they will accomplish next to nothing before Election Day. But if members up for re-election want to point to some accomplishments before voters go to the polls, we suggest they look at bills aimed at strengthening transparency of money in politics.

All month, during “Transparency September,” Sunlight will focus on ways to educate and inform the public on how influencers get their voices heard in Washington. And while some will shudder at the thought of “campaign finance reform,” the legislation we are advocating for this month does not limit what can be spent on campaigns or who can spend it. Indeed, in most cases, the legislation simply expands upon current, well-established law. What could be less controversial than that?

So, as a favor to members of Congress, may we present for your consideration:

The Real Time Transparency Act

Introduced by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, the Real Time Transparency Act (S. 2207, H.R. 4442) requires that contributions of $1,000 or more to candidates, parties and PACs are disclosed within 48 hours. The bill simply expands a 48-hour disclosure requirement already in place in the weeks prior to an election. Citizens should not have to wait weeks or months to find out who is making large contributions to members of Congress.

Ready to help make it happen? Head here to sign our petition or write a letter to the editor. Each option takes just a few minutes, and it can make a big difference in helping us send a our message to Congress: It’s time to get serious about real-time disclosure.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act is a simple bill that would require Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance reports with the FEC, the same way House candidates and presidential candidates file. The bill, S. 375, has been introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and has 50 bipartisan cosponsors — but continues to be blocked by transparency foe Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The current paper filing system delays disclosure, wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and kills a lot of trees. It’s time for Senators to join the 21st Century by electronically filing their campaign finance reports.


OK, we admit this one is a bit more controversial. But it shouldn’t be. As reintroduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the DISCLOSE Act, S. 2516, H.R. 148 would disclose unlimited “dark money” that is spent on elections. Identifying donors of campaign contributions is fundamental to our campaign finance laws and is viewed as the least restrictive way to deter corruption and inform voters. Donors to outside groups would not be prevented from giving unlimited sums if the DISCLOSE Act were enacted. Their political contributions would be made public just as contributions to parties, PACs and candidates are. After Citizens United, voters should know where millions of dollars of money in elections is coming from, and whether it might be buying access to elected representatives.

The Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform Act

Recently introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., the Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform Act requires people who are paid to lobby to register and report as lobbyists, ensuring that some powerful influencers who currently operate in secret disclose information about their activities the way the vast majority of lobbyists already do. S. 2754 also prohibits members of Congress from soliciting campaign contributions from lobbyists when Congress is in session and prohibits lobbyists from bundling large contributions. While dipping a toe into campaign finance reform with its solicitation and bundling provisions, the Bennet bill should be appealing to members of Congress who like to shift the blame for all that ails Washington to lobbyists. It should also appeal to lobbyists, who will be relieved of the pressure of responding to members’ calls for cash and of hitting up their friends and associates for bundled contributions. It’s time to ensure that everyone who is paid to lobby is registered as a lobbyist, and that lobbyists’ influence is not magnified by their ability to bundle contributions.

We’ll be addressing these and other transparency issues during an event on September 16, from 9:30 – 12:00. The event will feature two of the Senators—Tester and King—who have taken the lead on transparency issues and introduced two of the bills mentioned above. RSVP here if you wish to attend.