Today, as the public continues to see the harmful effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision first hand in the Republican primaries, a group of U.S. Senators announced new legislation to address the worst of the problems caused by the decision. The DISCLOSE Act of 2012, introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), will help put an end to secretive campaign spending by strengthening disclosure laws.
The legislation is cosponsored by 34 Senators in addition to Whitehouse, including his colleagues on the Citizens United Task Force: Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). Other cosponsors include Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
"The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has subjected the American people to a flood of political ads funded by anonymous donors," said Whitehouse. "The American people deserve to know who is really behind these ads. This legislation will require organizations involved in elections to tell the public where they are getting their money, and what they are spending it on -- shining a badly needed light into the activities of these groups."
The Act requires any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more. Transfer provisions in the bill prevent donors from using shell organizations to hide their activities.
To make sure that organizations and individuals take responsibility for their negative or misleading political advertising, the legislation also includes "stand-by-your-ad" disclaimer requirements that require any organization that puts a political ad on TV or radio to list its top funders in the ads. The head of the organization also must appear in the ad and state that he or she approves the message, just as candidates must do now.
"Republicans and Democrats have both touted disclosure in the past and the ideas in this bill have earned broad support," said Senator Tom Udall. "There's a lot we need to fix with campaign finance, but at a minimum, the American people at least deserve to know where the deluge of money financing these new shadow campaign operations is coming from."
"In the age of super PACs, it is more important than ever for citizens to understand who is financing political campaigns and negative attack ads," said Senator Shaheen. "Voters must be able to make informed decisions, and this legislation provides rules that will prevent this unregulated influx of money from compromising the transparency of our electoral process."
"The Supreme Court reversed itself and decades of precedent with its Citizens United ruling. Now, Coloradans and Americans are being bombarded by attack ads, super PACs skirt accountability and the presidency might well be determined by a silent auction," said Bennet. "The DISCLOSE Act would bring these attack ads, their contributors and these shadowy organizations into the light and help restore Americans' faith in our election system."
"We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed," said Senator Charles E. Schumer. "This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy."
"Vermont is a small state. It is easy to imagine how the wave of corporate money we are seeing spent on elections around the country could transform even local elections in Vermont or in other small states," said Leahy. "It would not take more than a tiny fraction of corporate money to outspend all of our local candidates combined. I am proud to cosponsor the DISCLOSE Act, as we continue to try to fight the effects of corporate influence unleashed by Citizens United."
The other cosponsors of the legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), John Kerry (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).