DISCLOSE Act Vote A Victory for Citizens Over Special Interests: Statement of Policy Director Meredith McGehee
Passage of the DISCLOSE Act by the House today is a victory for citizens over special interests. The fact that today's vote was so close is a sad testament to the power of special interests in Washington. Polling showed 8 in 10 Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, opening elections to a flood of corporate and union treasury funds. Better than 7 in 10 Americans wanted a legislative response, but special interests very nearly carried the day.
Special interests waged a campaign of misinformation and misrepresentations. The DISCLOSE Act, while not perfect, is a clear improvement over current law which was left in tatters by the recent decision of the Roberts Court. If the Senate soon follows suit, and we hope it will, the American people will be able to learn who is really trying to influence our elections and who is attempting to buy power in Washington.
It is always notable in Washington when a piece of legislation is able to join groups from the left and the right in common purpose. In the case of the DISCLOSE Act, what the groups who opposed the DISCLOSE Act had in common is that they feared public scrutiny of their big donors and their efforts to sway our elections.
Notwithstanding high-minded claims of First Amendment rights and concerns about "chilling speech," these groups opposed the DISCLOSE Act because they will have to publicly reveal where they get their funding for their electioneering activities.
Many of these groups say they fear that such disclosure will chill speech. What they may fear even more is that their money will dry up if it is subject to sunlight - that if donors who fund their campaign ads are publicly disclosed, those donors will stop giving as a result. Without such funding, the groups' power in Washington - and the power of those behind them - will be diminished. This is a case where the interests of inside-the-beltway organizations are not necessarily the same as average Americans. As is too often the case in Washington, it's all about big money and buying influence.
The argument that this bill will chill speech is simply a dodge. Just today, the Supreme Court ruled again in favor of disclosure in the political arena. Just as requirements for disclosure of political expenditures were upheld 8 to 1 in theCitizens United case, so too were Washington State disclosure provisions concerning those signing petitions for ballot initiatives in Doe v. Reed. Justice Antonin Scalia, no fan of campaign finance regulation, wrote in concurrence stressing the importance of disclosure in a democracy:
"Plaintiffs raise concerns that the disclosure of petition signatures may lead to threats and intimidation. …There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave."
We commend Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Mike Castle (R-DE) for their commitment to ensuring this bill moved forward while retaining its core purpose. We also commend Speaker Nancy Pelosi for understanding why this legislation was so important and desperately needed in a post-Citizens Unitedworld, and for holding her caucus together in a very difficult negotiation in the House.
We urge the Senate to take up this bill as quickly as possible and are hopeful that Senators from both sides of the aisle will assess this bill based on its merits for the good of our democracy. If they do, the DISCLOSE Act should be enacted before the fall elections.