U.S. House: CLC, Reformers Call for Bipartisan Cosponsors for Stripped-Down Disclosure Legislation – DISCLOSE 2012
Today, the Campaign Legal Center, and a coalition of reform groups, called on House Members to cosponsor the DISCLOSE 2012 Act (H.R. 4010), a measure that seeks to ensure that voters know where the funding originates for hundreds of millions of dollars in secret political spending. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), is a stripped-down version of DISCLOSE Act focused solely on disclosure provisions.
“This bill is a well-crafted and substantive response to the changed landscape resulting from Citizens United and other court decisions, and it merits bipartisan support,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “The bill addresses the concerns raised by critics of the DISCLOSE Act in 2010 and deals purely with disclosure of political spending which Americans overwhelmingly support and which the Supreme Court has repeated endorsed. While addressing criticisms does not always mean legislation gets passed in Washington, we remain hopeful that this new bill rises above the partisan bickering that has engulfed the 112th Congress. Citizens deserve to know who is spending millions of dollars to buy influence in Washington.”
The DISCLOSE Act of 2010 introduced in the last Congress contained a number of non-disclosure items which proved controversial enough that the legislation which passed in the House fell one vote shy of the 60 required to break a filibuster in the Senate.
The groups signing onto the letter with the Campaign Legal Center include: Americans for Campaign Finance Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Campaign, Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation.
The full text of the letter follows below.
February 15, 2012
Our organizations strongly support the DISCLOSE 2012 Act introduced last week by Representative Chris Van Hollen.
This legislation provides essential new disclosure requirements to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions being injected into federal elections by non-profit groups and other entities. The legislation also ensures that there will be timely disclosure by Super PACs.
We strongly urge you to co-sponsor and support this legislation.
The organizations include:
It is a cardinal rule of campaign finance laws that citizens are entitled to know the identity of, and amounts given by, the donors who are funding campaign expenditures to influence their votes.
This fundamental right to know has been long recognized in disclosure laws passed by Congress and in decisions by the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of these laws.
Polls show the public overwhelming supports disclosure for candidate campaigns and outside spending groups. According to a New York Times article on a New York Times/CBS News poll released on October 28, 2010, Americans overwhelmingly, "favor full disclosure of spending by both campaigns and outside groups."
The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United combined with ineffective FEC disclosure regulations opened gaping loopholes in the campaign finance disclosure laws.
The Van Hollen bill closes these loopholes. It also provides effective disclosure for the recently created Super PACs which are playing a dangerous new role in our elections as a result of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the SpeechNow case.
Unlike the DISCLOSE Act of 2010, the new DISCLOSE 2012 Act focuses solely on disclosure requirements. It does not contain any of the nondisclosure provisions that were in the 2010 legislation, such as the restrictions on expenditures by government contractors. And unlike the 2010 legislation, the bill does not contain any special exceptions for any group.
With the new Van Hollen bill, the choice for members of Congress is clear and straight forward: do you support disclosure to provide citizens with basic information they have a right to know or do you support secret money being spent to influence our elections?
The new legislation would ensure that citizens know on a timely basis the identities of the large donors who are funding campaign expenditures by tax-exempt organizations. The legislation would also fix the problem of untimely disclosure of the donors to Super PACs supporting presidential candidates. This problem arose in the 2012 Republican presidential nominating process when the disclosure of most of the Super PAC donors did not occur until after the critical Iowa caucus and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida primaries were over.
The new legislation also requires Super PACs and other “independent” spending entities that run broadcast ads to identify, and disclose the amounts being given by, their top five donors in each TV ad, either by listing the information in the ad or by running a crawl with the information. The bill also requires the top official of the group to appear in each TV ad and take responsibility for it.
The Citizens United decision striking down the ban on corporate expenditures in federal campaigns has done enormous damage to our political system. But even in this decision, the Supreme Court by an 8 to 1 vote made clear that laws requiring outside groups to disclose their campaign expenditures and the donors financing them are constitutional and necessary.
The Court stated:
The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.
Citing the landmark Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the Court stated that disclosure is justified based on “a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending.” The Court noted the problem of independent spending groups running campaign-related ads “while hiding behind dubious and misleading names.”
There is no legitimate policy basis or constitutional basis for a member of the House to oppose the DISCLOSE 2012 Act. Opposition to this legislation in the face of overwhelming public support for campaign finance disclosure can mean only that an opponent believes large donors seeking to influence federal elections should be kept hidden from the American people.
We strongly urge you to co-sponsor the Van Hollen bill and to take all steps necessary to help ensure that it is considered on the House floor and passed in 2012.
Americans for Campaign Reform Democracy 21
Brennan Center for Justice League of Women Voters,
Campaign Legal Center People For the American Way
Citizens for Responsibility Public Campaign
and Ethics in Washington Public Citizen
Common Cause Sunlight Foundation