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Disclose Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, perhaps the most important three words in our constitution are ``We the people.'' But the whole notion of ``We the people'' is threatened by oceans of dark secret cash, oceans of cash used as a threat on the front end and as an election hammer on the back end. It is simply destructive to our democracy.

Tonight is the night for some profiles in courage to stand for the American system, for democracy, and for the people.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Louisiana for her remarks. Would the Senator be able to engage in a question or two?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Yes.

Mr. MERKLEY. I think back to the period when our forefathers and foremothers came here and said: We are going to set up a new set of colonies, a new set of rules.

One of the things at the very heart of that was the notion that we the people, we the settlers, we are colonists. We are going to decide how things run rather than having kings and queens or other very strong folks handing down the laws from now on. That was a powerful concept that got integrated into the first three words of our Constitution, ``We the people.''

Does the Senator have any sense whether this flood of secret, this massive flood of secret money coming from powerful individuals, billionaires and companies, does damage to this concept of ``we the people''?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Absolutely. The Senator is correct. As I said, the recent polling I have seen has the opinion of Congress and the way Washington government is operating at an all-time low. People do not believe they are getting the whole story, the full picture. This is going to contribute in a very negative way to that opinion, which is detrimental to the foundation, the essence of this democracy. I think our Founding Fathers would be horrified to actually think a small group of individuals can, through campaigns, buy the outcome of the election or buy the attention of the candidate or the cause, and not even have to disclose their identity or why they might be interested.

Everyone is entitled to free speech. I do not think people are entitled to secret speech or secret attacks. If you are going to get into a fight, you would like to know with whom are you fighting. Identify yourself. This system obscures the truth, which I think people have a right to know. I think it does cut at the heart of some of the strongest principles of our democracy.

Mr. MERKLEY. I was thinking back to a book that a friend gave me to read. It was called ``Treason of the Senate.'' When I first heard him speak about it over the phone, I think he was saying he had a book about the reason of the Senate. It turned out to be not the reason, but the treason. It was a series of articles, I believe about 20, that were written during the muckraker period.

It was each month taking a different Senator, how they had basically been put in office through a particular company in a different State--different powerful interest. This set of articles apparently was one of the things that led to a constitutional amendment because it helped the public mobilize against the indirect election of Senators and pushed for the direct election.

So here was the public saying: You know, we the people have this system, and it has been violated. So we have to try to change the system so we can reclaim it.

I think that is maybe some evidence of the role of excessive power and money and its corrupting influence or its corrosive influence on the electoral process.

Ms. LANDRIEU. The Senator is perfect to point that out and is an excellent student of history. He has demonstrated his understanding. Before Senators were directly elected, they were elected by the legislators of their States, and oftentimes literally sent to Washington by special interests--for instance, the railroads.

Instead of the laws being written to help people, average citizens or homesteaders or people trying to get a hand up and a helping hand, some of these Senators came, basically bought, sold, delivered, and packaged to Washington, DC, to argue on behalf of one special interest.

It is tough to keep things in balance here right now without us going back to these times. That is what is so frightening. I see Senator Whitehouse on the floor. He has been studying this and has many documents he is referring to, but that is what is alarming. I do not think people realize--I mean this is really moving backwards in time.

When Washington operates in secrecy, there is no way to get the information. Why would we want to do this at a time when the middle class is under assault? They have lost 40 percent of their net worth. At a time when our popularity and trust with the people is at an all-time low, this does not make any sense to me. I do not understand any benefit that would come from it.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. May I follow up on the points that Senator Merkley made. The comparison he made to the constitutional change that took the Senate from election by State legislators to direct election by the people is very much a model for what is happening here. There was a desire to get the vote away from the special interests and put it in the hands of the actual people.

Here it is a desire to get the spending, the money behind the vote, out of the hands of the special interests and back to the people. What Citizens United did was to go backwards, open the flood gates of special interest money, and allow it to be secret. Try to put ordinary voters up against that kind of a force. It is not fair to ordinary voters. It is not right. In some respects it puts the right they are taking up inside out, and that is the right of freedom of speech.

I think we all have seen the four freedoms, the posters by Norman Rockwell. Perhaps the most famous of those posters is the one of the fellow in the tan windbreaker jacket, a thin guy. He is standing up tall surrounded by people, clearly at a townhall meeting. Why is he standing and what is he doing? He is speaking. He is having his say.

The way Citizens United worked out, they are basically saying we do not have a constitutional right to speak. We have a constitutional right to listen. We have a constitutional right to listen when big money speaks. It is essentially a shut-up-and-listen-to-the-big-money version of the first amendment. When money is speech, which is the principle of Citizens United, guess what. Those with the most money get the most speech.

Those who do not have a lot of money do not get a lot of speech, and those who have no money get no speech. That is not what the Founders intended. So there is a strong similarity between the move to take the vote and put it in popular hands and what we are trying to do with disclosure, which is put the money in popular hands. We cannot do that under Citizens United.

With the DISCLOSE Act, at least you know what is going on. You can look at the game that is being played. It is cards up on the table. If you are being denied the ability to speak on even terms with the CEO or a billionaire or a major corporation or some big lobbying group, at least you have the right to know what they are doing, what they are saying, what is going on. You can keep score. When you get together, you can get mad and do something about it.

Behind the veil of secrecy you cannot even keep score. You do not know what is going on.

Mr. MERKLEY. Just a moment ago our colleague from Louisiana was noting that we have important work to do to shore up the American family. Families have lost--the number is, on average, $100,000 of equity in their house per family. That is a phenomenal amount. If we look at the equity held by our Hispanic families, our African-American families, they have been virtually wiped out by a system of deregulation, predatory mortgage, leading to a housing bubble.

We have a desperate need for jobs. I think what I hear the Senator saying is that in the face of these needs, allowing unlimited spending by the most powerful interests in the country to pursue the interest of the most powerful is not going to help us create those living-wage jobs Americans so desperately need. It is not going to help us fund those health care clinics that are the front door for folks who do not have the big salaries and the big benefit packages. It is not going to help put food on the table for those out of work and hungry, and in that sense this process of us working by and for the people is being corrupted by these vast pools of secret spending?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Absolutely. That is why I said the Senator is correct; why I am astonished that people on the other side of the aisle who talk about good government, government for the people--you know, that is what the tea party movement is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about taking government back. This is not taking government back to the people; this is giving it away to people who have the most power and the most money, and you do not even know who you gave it to because you did not have disclosure.

I think this is going in the opposite direction of what the American people want us to do right now. If the middle class is not angry enough, they really should be angry about this because the consequences of secret, undisclosed, unlimited amounts of money puts the average person at risk. It disenfranchises them.

We have worked for over 230-something years to go through a process of perfecting our democracy to where every man, every woman, every person 18 and older has a right to vote and participate.

Now what do we do? Just wake up after 230 years and say: That is not working. Let's just give the government back to the rich, the few, and they do not even have to say who they are. They do not have to disclose anything about themselves.

This is absolutely going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. I hope people listen to this debate and not say, well, there they go again, but I hope they really understand the consequences of this kind of secret money in the system. It is corrupting. It is not right.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Louisiana for her remarks. Would the Senator be able to engage in a question or two?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Yes.

Mr. MERKLEY. I think back to the period when our forefathers and foremothers came here and said: We are going to set up a new set of colonies, a new set of rules.

One of the things at the very heart of that was the notion that we the people, we the settlers, we are colonists. We are going to decide how things run rather than having kings and queens or other very strong folks handing down the laws from now on. That was a powerful concept that got integrated into the first three words of our Constitution, ``We the people.''

Does the Senator have any sense whether this flood of secret, this massive flood of secret money coming from powerful individuals, billionaires and companies, does damage to this concept of ``we the people''?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Absolutely. The Senator is correct. As I said, the recent polling I have seen has the opinion of Congress and the way Washington government is operating at an all-time low. People do not believe they are getting the whole story, the full picture. This is going to contribute in a very negative way to that opinion, which is detrimental to the foundation, the essence of this democracy. I think our Founding Fathers would be horrified to actually think a small group of individuals can, through campaigns, buy the outcome of the election or buy the attention of the candidate or the cause, and not even have to disclose their identity or why they might be interested.

Everyone is entitled to free speech. I do not think people are entitled to secret speech or secret attacks. If you are going to get into a fight, you would like to know with whom are you fighting. Identify yourself. This system obscures the truth, which I think people have a right to know. I think it does cut at the heart of some of the strongest principles of our democracy.

Mr. MERKLEY. I was thinking back to a book that a friend gave me to read. It was called ``Treason of the Senate.'' When I first heard him speak about it over the phone, I think he was saying he had a book about the reason of the Senate. It turned out to be not the reason, but the treason. It was a series of articles, I believe about 20, that were written during the muckraker period.

It was each month taking a different Senator, how they had basically been put in office through a particular company in a different State--different powerful interest. This set of articles apparently was one of the things that led to a constitutional amendment because it helped the public mobilize against the indirect election of Senators and pushed for the direct election.

So here was the public saying: You know, we the people have this system, and it has been violated. So we have to try to change the system so we can reclaim it.

I think that is maybe some evidence of the role of excessive power and money and its corrupting influence or its corrosive influence on the electoral process.

Ms. LANDRIEU. The Senator is perfect to point that out and is an excellent student of history. He has demonstrated his understanding. Before Senators were directly elected, they were elected by the legislators of their States, and oftentimes literally sent to Washington by special interests--for instance, the railroads.

Instead of the laws being written to help people, average citizens or homesteaders or people trying to get a hand up and a helping hand, some of these Senators came, basically bought, sold, delivered, and packaged to Washington, DC, to argue on behalf of one special interest.

It is tough to keep things in balance here right now without us going back to these times. That is what is so frightening. I see Senator Whitehouse on the floor. He has been studying this and has many documents he is referring to, but that is what is alarming. I do not think people realize--I mean this is really moving backwards in time.

When Washington operates in secrecy, there is no way to get the information. Why would we want to do this at a time when the middle class is under assault? They have lost 40 percent of their net worth. At a time when our popularity and trust with the people is at an all-time low, this does not make any sense to me. I do not understand any benefit that would come from it.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. May I follow up on the points that Senator Merkley made. The comparison he made to the constitutional change that took the Senate from election by State legislators to direct election by the people is very much a model for what is happening here. There was a desire to get the vote away from the special interests and put it in the hands of the actual people.

Here it is a desire to get the spending, the money behind the vote, out of the hands of the special interests and back to the people. What Citizens United did was to go backwards, open the flood gates of special interest money, and allow it to be secret. Try to put ordinary voters up against that kind of a force. It is not fair to ordinary voters. It is not right. In some respects it puts the right they are taking up inside out, and that is the right of freedom of speech.

I think we all have seen the four freedoms, the posters by Norman Rockwell. Perhaps the most famous of those posters is the one of the fellow in the tan windbreaker jacket, a thin guy. He is standing up tall surrounded by people, clearly at a townhall meeting. Why is he standing and what is he doing? He is speaking. He is having his say.

The way Citizens United worked out, they are basically saying we do not have a constitutional right to speak. We have a constitutional right to listen. We have a constitutional right to listen when big money speaks. It is essentially a shut-up-and-listen-to-the-big-money version of the first amendment. When money is speech, which is the principle of Citizens United, guess what. Those with the most money get the most speech.

Those who do not have a lot of money do not get a lot of speech, and those who have no money get no speech. That is not what the Founders intended. So there is a strong similarity between the move to take the vote and put it in popular hands and what we are trying to do with disclosure, which is put the money in popular hands. We cannot do that under Citizens United.

With the DISCLOSE Act, at least you know what is going on. You can look at the game that is being played. It is cards up on the table. If you are being denied the ability to speak on even terms with the CEO or a billionaire or a major corporation or some big lobbying group, at least you have the right to know what they are doing, what they are saying, what is going on. You can keep score. When you get together, you can get mad and do something about it.

Behind the veil of secrecy you cannot even keep score. You do not know what is going on.

Mr. MERKLEY. Just a moment ago our colleague from Louisiana was noting that we have important work to do to shore up the American family. Families have lost--the number is, on average, $100,000 of equity in their house per family. That is a phenomenal amount. If we look at the equity held by our Hispanic families, our African-American families, they have been virtually wiped out by a system of deregulation, predatory mortgage, leading to a housing bubble.

We have a desperate need for jobs. I think what I hear the Senator saying is that in the face of these needs, allowing unlimited spending by the most powerful interests in the country to pursue the interest of the most powerful is not going to help us create those living-wage jobs Americans so desperately need. It is not going to help us fund those health care clinics that are the front door for folks who do not have the big salaries and the big benefit packages. It is not going to help put food on the table for those out of work and hungry, and in that sense this process of us working by and for the people is being corrupted by these vast pools of secret spending?

Ms. LANDRIEU. Absolutely. That is why I said the Senator is correct; why I am astonished that people on the other side of the aisle who talk about good government, government for the people--you know, that is what the tea party movement is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about taking government back. This is not taking government back to the people; this is giving it away to people who have the most power and the most money, and you do not even know who you gave it to because you did not have disclosure.

I think this is going in the opposite direction of what the American people want us to do right now. If the middle class is not angry enough, they really should be angry about this because the consequences of secret, undisclosed, unlimited amounts of money puts the average person at risk. It disenfranchises them.

We have worked for over 230-something years to go through a process of perfecting our democracy to where every man, every woman, every person 18 and older has a right to vote and participate.

Now what do we do? Just wake up after 230 years and say: That is not working. Let's just give the government back to the rich, the few, and they do not even have to say who they are. They do not have to disclose anything about themselves.

This is absolutely going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. I hope people listen to this debate and not say, well, there they go again, but I hope they really understand the consequences of this kind of secret money in the system. It is corrupting. It is not right.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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