Murkowski Defies Leadership on Disclosure and Returns to Republican Orthodoxy

United States Capitol Building
The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Zach Berger/Campaign Legal Center

For many years, policies requiring public disclosure of the money spent to influence the outcome of U.S. elections had bipartisan support.  The post-Watergate laws, which included a new and comprehensive disclosure regime, passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats.  The 2000 law to require so-called "527" political groups to disclose their donors was authored by a Republican and passed with the support of 80% of House Republicans.

Yet as Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has steadily risen to power in the Republican Party, support for disclosure of campaign money has reciprocally declined.  Claims that "Republicans support disclosure" -- as Senator McConnell himself has declared -- are followed by carefully worded endorsements that skillfully carve out huge loopholes.  It's now reached the point that any discussion of disclosure with Party loyalists morphs into concerns about alleged harassment and the chilling of speech, and the specter of an overbearing federal government intent on squelching Americans' free speech rights.

Certainly after the disappointing 2012 elections, Republicans should be second-guessing their position from the previous Congress on disclosure.  As the targets of anonymous attack ads, many came to realize that dark money was not weapon that only conservative groups could wield.  Even Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), who would not even allow so much as a hearing on disclosure in his House Administration Committee last Congress, found religion on disclosure in the waning days of his campaign.  He had his road to Damascus moment on disclosure too late to do much about though.  He lost an election awash in dark money.

That’s why it is notable that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has -- by the simple act of supporting disclosure of campaign spending across the board -- has become a profile of courage.  Her recent opinion piece with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in The Washington Post harkened back to the old GOP orthodoxy of supporting comprehensive disclosure and should get the 113th Congress off on a new and better footing.