With all the kerfuffle around the DISCLOSE Act, it is important to remember why this measure is necessary in the first place. 8 in 10 Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC which opened up virtually bottomless corporate and union treasury funds for spending on political advertising. Much of the new influx of money is expected to be laundered through shady groups with patriotic names or even trade associations.
The following opinion piece appeared on National Journal's Under the Influence Experts Blog on June 19, 2010.
With all the kerfuffle around the DISCLOSE Act, it is important to remember why this measure is necessary in the first place. 8 in 10 Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC which opened up virtually bottomless corporate and union treasury funds for spending on political advertising. Much of the new influx of money is expected to be laundered through shady groups with patriotic names or even trade associations. The goal for many campaign finance reform opponents is complete anonymity for donors – no fingerprints “Swift Boating” if you will. Below are recent examples plucked from the headlines.
A third-party group, the Committee for Truth in Politics, is out with an ad blasting the House’s "Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act." The group, which has no Web site and has made no disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, was created by a North Carolina GOP operative, according to National Public Radio, and is represented by lawyer James Bopp, who sued the FEC on the grounds that the group shouldn’t have to file any kind of spending report to that agency. Source: FactCheck.org 2/3/10
“We believe that the U.S. Constitution protects them from having to file that report. The problem is having to file a report at all. To be regulated at all. To be accountable to the government at all.” - James Bopp on National Public Radio.
First, without the DISCLOSE Act, anonymous groups will be able to hide their financial backers. As the excerpt above shows, without the DISCLOSE Act, Americans will never know who is funding the Committee for Truth in Politics which also ran an ad in 2008, according to FactCheck.org, accusing then-Senator Barack Obama of “favoring early release for sexual offenders.” FactCheck.org said they found the Committee’s name “pretty misleading in the case of this ad, which includes a gross oversight on a 1999 vote.” Without the DISCLOSE Act, the Committee for Truth in Politics and its ilk will continue to operate and be able to keep the source of their funding hidden from the public and the press.
Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation's biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress. That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. …”There's no question that AHIP has quietly solicited monies from their members which were funneled over to the chamber for their ads," said a source. The total donated by the health insurers, according to one estimate, was as much as one-quarter of the chamber's total health care advertising budget. …Asked about the health-insurer funding for its ad blitz, the chamber's top lobbyist Bruce Josten said, "No comment. We never disclose funding or what we're going to do." Source: Under the Influence, National Journal, 1/12/10
Second, without the DISCLOSE Act, the true source of the funding of the ads run under the banner of a larger organization will remain hidden. A major concern raised by Citizens United is that corporations and unions will evade disclosure of their electoral spending by laundering money through third-party organizations. The Court, by a vote of 8-1, upheld the electioneering communications disclosure requirement. However, the FEC has already weakened this disclosure requirement by requiring third-party organizations to disclose only those donors that specifically designate their contributions for the organization’s electioneering communications. The FEC rules thus create a roadmap for evasion of the law and most recently the FEC deadlocked on its General Counsel’s recommendation to investigate what appeared to be a clear violation of federal disclosure requirement laws and the complaint was dismissed. The DISCLOSE Act ensures that the significant sources of funds used by groups for political advertising are disclosed.
All the noise surrounding the DISCLOSE Act should not distract from the importance of knowing the true source of funds in order to provide voters with the ability to evaluate the message of those trying to influence them.