Disclose Act

Floor Speech

By:  Mark Pryor
Date: July 16, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Rhode Island for his great leadership not just on this issue but many issues. But this is certainly a very important issue.

I rise today to the lend my voice to support campaign finance reform and specifically the DISCLOSE Act. I want to come back to the phrase ``lend my voice'' in just a minute. The DISCLOSE Act--a lot of times, people back home hear about these bills that are 500 pages long or 2,000 pages long. This one is barely 20 pages long. It is really about 19 pages and 4 lines long. This is a short bill, very concise, very to the point. I am for it.

I am for even broader campaign finance reform, and let me give you one example of why I support campaign finance reform. There has been too much money in Federal politics for a long time. This did not just start last year or even 5 years ago, this has been building over a long period of time.

When I ran for attorney general in my State in 1998, I raised and spent somewhere around $800,000. That may not sound like a lot of money, and certainly in a Federal race it is not a lot of money, but that got the job done. I had a Republican opponent. We fought it out. She was a very worthy opponent. We had debates, and we sort of barnstormed around the State. It was wonderful.

In 2002, 4 years later, I decided to run for the Senate. That year I had to raise somewhere in the neighborhood--I do not have the figures in front of me but a little bit over $4 million. So same State, basically the same population, same voters; nothing had really changed except I went from a State race, statewide race, for which I raised and spent for the campaign about $800,000, to about five times that amount in 2002. That was before there were super PACs. That was before money really took over, the way you see in 2012. And money really has taken over the system. It is not good. It is not good at all.

I am for the DISCLOSE Act, but I also think we should do larger campaign finance reform based on transparency. Actually, I am supportive of lower giving amounts instead of higher giving amounts.

I support something we used to do in Arkansas. I have not looked at the State law in a while. I assume it is the same, where PACs have to play by the same rules everybody else does. They are subject to the same limits. I think that takes away a lot of the funny business that goes on with PACs.

I think that when we do campaign finance reform, we have to reform more than just the campaigns themselves because right now the campaigns are very regulated. There is a lot of transparency. There is a lot of disclosure. There are a lot of limits and requirements on campaigns. If it is Mark Pryor for U.S. Senate or whoever it may be, there are lots of rules that govern that. That is the way it should be. The problem is outside the campaign, the extracurricular activities. That is where the real challenge is.

That takes us to Citizens United. I must say, with all due respect, that I think it is naive to hold that money does not have a corrosive effect on politics. It does. We have seen it for two centuries in this country. We have seen that money has a corrosive effect on politics. There have been various reform movements that have been designed to curb that corrosive effect, but unfortunately the Citizens United case just kicked the door open wide, as wide as it has ever been kicked in American history.

I do not want to criticize the Supreme Court, but I certainly hope that after the 2012 elections they will have an opportunity to revisit that decision. I hope they are looking at the press reports where these super PACs and other groups are saying they are going to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, one tabulation I saw is that just against President Obama's reelection campaign--just to make sure he does not get reelected--there is well over $1 billion they claim they are going to raise and spend to defeat this President. That skews the whole political system in this country. It is not healthy. It is not good.

I see these pages here who are with us today. They are learning about our democracy. I am so proud of them for being here and being here late night, both on the Democratic and Republican side. I am so glad they have this opportunity. I hope it is the opportunity of a lifetime for them. But I do not want the lesson to be that money owns politics, because that is kind of where we are today. We are going to find out in 2012 how much of an impact it has.

Let's go to the first amendment. Again, I do not want to get too deeply into the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United because I hope they revisit it. But we as citizens have rights that are protected by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution calls us persons. They call us people. Unfortunately, in this recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has basically said that corporations are people and persons and are given that same right. I disagree with that. Corporations cannot vote; they cannot be drafted into the military; they do not have a religion to be protected. There is a lot of difference in corporations. There has always been this legal understanding that a corporation can be a person for certain purposes--everybody agrees with that; we understand why--but not for all purposes and not for political purposes.

One of the truths that we hold self-evident in our system of government is that our rights are inalienable. They do not come from the State. Our rights come from some higher authority than just the Constitution or just the U.S. Government or just the Congress. Our rights are inalienable. Well, corporations are created by people. They do not have inalienable rights. It is ridiculous to think they do.

Again, I hope the Supreme Court will take an opportunity, based on what they saw in 2012, to revisit that decision.

Let me talk about the current state of affairs. I know I have colleagues waiting. I want to wrap this up as quickly as I can. The current state of affairs is that we have unlimited money coming into the political system and secret money coming into the political system. That is a bad combination. That is not good for the public's welfare. It is not good for the average voter and the average citizen.

Again, we have a first amendment right to free speech. There is no doubt about that. And we should. And we should zealously and jealously protect that. But in the political situation we have today, if I have a person in Arkansas who wants to give $100 for a campaign--say, a local congressional campaign, he wants to give $100--well, somebody else can come along--it may be an individual, it may be a corporation; we do not know who it is--and they can give $1 million or they can give more. It can be unlimited, but I want to use round figures here so we can talk about this in a concise way. So $100 from the voter in the State who is actually voting in that election and $1 million from who knows where. Well, I would say this. I talked about it earlier. I want to lend my voice to this. I want that voter to have a voice. I do not want that outside or that secret money or whomever is offering that to have a voice that is 10,000 times louder than that person in Arkansas. It would be like right here. If I were here speaking today and talking about being for the DISCLOSE Act and I turned around and there were 10,000 other people crammed in this Chamber talking about the same act but talking against the act, whose voice is going to be heard by the public? It is not going to be mine. That is the problem with the current state of affairs.

So let's say a television spot--I will just pick a number--costs $500. That is the cheap spot. That is a laughably cheap spot in a lot of markets, but let's say it is a small market and it is not in prime time. Let's say it is $500. I will just pick that figure. So if that person gave $100, they bought one-fifth of a TV ad--one-fifth. That is about a 6-second TV ad. If that corporation or outside person--whomever it is--gave $1 million, they have bought 2,000 TV ads--2,000 compared to 6 seconds. No comparison at all. It is unfair. It grounds out and dilutes our first amendment right that is protected in the Constitution.

This is the last point I wish to make on this unlimited money, and then I would like to make my final point in just a second. On the unlimited money, you need to ask yourself: Why are they doing this? Why are they giving this money? Is it out of the goodness of their hearts?

No, that is not it. That is not it. Elections have consequences. They want to influence the election because they want the consequence to be that they have influence, they have power, they have control. That is what this is about.

We talk about it in terms of 30-second ads and negative ads. What this is about ultimately is who makes decisions in this country. Is it the general public? Is it elected officials who are here because sometimes they go through bruising campaigns to get here, but they are here and they are trying to put the public interest first or are those decisions going to be made by people whose elections were bought lock, stock, and barrel with unlimited and secret money? That is what is at stake today. That is what is at stake tonight. That is why I am for the DISCLOSE Act. I do not think it goes far enough. But I do want to finish on that last point.

The DISCLOSE Act is about transparency. That is a major step in the right direction. I do not think it is the whole ball game; it is a major step in the right direction. I think this is a good piece of legislation.

I thank all of my colleagues who are here tonight and who are talking about this and bringing awareness to the American public about this because I think it is important. And I think this is something we do have to get right, and we need this reform. This is a great place to start.

I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT