Snowe Job: the Senator Mischaracterizes Citizens United to Justify Her Opposition to Disclosure


It was bad enough when Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) ended her long and brave tradition of supporting campaign finance reforms by voting against the DISCLOSE Act last year – a vote cast despite her strong condemnation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to allow unlimited corporate and labor spending in federal elections.  But now the Senator has taken to completely mischaracterizing that very same court decision in order to justify her opposition to a draft executive order from the President which would require the disclosure of political contributions and expenditures from corporations applying for or holding government contracts and their officers and directors.

In a press release from her office, the Senator touts her support and co-authorship of the “disclosure provision’ in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), yet stunningly and falsely claims that the “provision was struck down last year by the Supreme Court in its ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.”  In fact, in its ruling, the Supreme Court resoundingly upheld the disclosure provisions in BCRA by a vote of 8-1.  The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of ensuring the disclosure of funds spent in campaigns so that both corporate shareholders and voters will know who is speaking: “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.”

The release from the Senator's office expressed concern for corporations which might have to reveal which political attack ads they are secretly bankrolling, but none for all her other constituents and for the vast majority of Americans who overwhelmingly disapproved of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens Unitedand support disclosure of political expenditures.  The Senator laments that the proposed Obama Administration executive order “circumvents the will of Congress” but ignores two primary and very telling facts: first, national and Maine polling consistently shows overwhelming public condemnation of the Citizens United ruling and support for legislation mandating disclosure of political expenditures and; second, said “will of Congress” was in fact a vote by a majority of the House in favor of the DISCLOSE Act, and a vote in the Senate of 59 Senators supporting the Act.  The Act failed to pass because not a single Republican Senator – not even Senator Snowe – would vote to break a Republican filibuster and allow the Senate to vote upon the bill.

If Senator Snowe feels a compelling or politically-expeditious need to oppose the disclosure of political expenditures by government contractors that is a matter between her and her constituents, but it is completely disingenuous of her to blame the lack of disclosure on the Supreme Court, when that Court specifically and overwhelming upheld the constitutionality of the disclosure provisions of BCRA. You can look it up at Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010).

The first reason President Obama is forced to consider an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by federal contractors is that Senator Snowe helped prevent the Senate from voting on the DISCLOSE Act last year. The second is that the FEC has perverted the clear words of the BCRA disclosure provisions that Snowe co-authored and that the Supreme Court upheld by issuing a regulation permitting groups making electioneering communications to hide their donors unless their funds were specifically earmarked for such communications – --not what the statute says at all. In fact, if the BCRA disclosure provisions were operating as they were originally written by Congress, most of the information President Obama is seeking in his executive order would already be publicly available – in reports to the FEC.  So by considering the draft executive order, President Obama is doing no more than giving us the sort of campaign disclosure the Supreme Court has upheld, but which the FEC and a minority of the Senate, including Senator Snowe, have succeeded in blocking until now.