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Public Statements

Disclose Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Unknown

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Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Minnesota for his very powerful and eloquent words, and I particularly want to thank my distinguished friend and colleague from Rhode Island for his leadership on this issue. I also thank others who have been at his side and working with him. I have been proud to be a cosponsor of this measure.

I would like to thank Senator Schumer, who introduced a similar measure in 2010. The DISCLOSE Act of 2010 has been, in fact, considerably narrowed and tailored to target the anonymity of huge donations--increasingly large donations today--and it is the kind of tailoring and narrowing that reflects the care and precision and hard work that my colleague from Rhode Island and others--and I am proud to be among them--have given to this matter.

As I rise at this late hour, we can't know--we can only hope--that America is listening or that our colleagues are listening, but I do know we should be listening to America. I am listening to Connecticut, and what I hear from Connecticut, the people of my State--as so many of my colleagues are hearing from their constituents and citizens--is they are losing trust in the greatest democracy in the history of the world. The greatest country in the history of the planet is losing the confidence and faith of its people.

I am hearing from people such as Catherine Sturgess of New Canaan, CT, who says:

Undisclosed campaign money influences candidates, elections and undermines the role of the voter. In turn, the election process is corrupted. Only a few cannot be allowed to impact a system which is intended to represent us all.

Lawrence Poin of Fairfield tells me, and I am listening:

Right now, foreign governments, oil tycoons, and Wall Street banks can spend millions to buy our democracy, and the American public will never know.

And I am listening also to Garrett Timmons of Brooklyn, CT, who says:

I think campaign and election reform should go much further and include a constitutional amendment in light of Citizens United, but I know how unrealistic that is. At least this act--

He is referring to the DISCLOSE Act of 2012--

is a step in the right direction, and I hope a no-brainer for our Congress. The people of this country are losing their representation in government to special interests and the funders of political campaigns. And to make matters worse, we don't even know who are stealing our elections.

I am listening to those people who are watching. They are watching what is happening in this country, and they are losing faith because they believe Washington is failing to listen to them. There are millions of other hard-working families who are struggling to put food on the table, stay in their homes, and find jobs who believe the system is not working for them and not listening to them as much as it is to the people who can afford to give to political campaigns, let alone who can afford to give tens of millions.

If we listen to the people of America--and I am listening to the people of Connecticut--we will pass the DISCLOSE Act of 2012.

All this bill requires is openness and disclosure and accountability. It places no limits on what can be contributed, on what can be done, on what can be said. It is completely consistent with Citizens United. I am not here to relitigate that case.

The Supreme Court, in the Bullock decision, recently indicated it would not relitigate that case anytime soon. It invalidated a Montana State law that prohibited corporations from making independent expenditures. We are not going to relitigate whether a corporation is a citizen or whether any of these entities can contribute or in what amounts.

The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is completely consistent with Citizens United. In fact, in a certain very true sense, Citizens United, in its majority opinion, presumed disclosure. The Supreme Court, in the majority opinion in that case, made clear the first amendment protects political speech when it said:

..... and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.

The framework, the reasoning, the logic of Citizens United is no limits on speech but disclosure of who is speaking and who is funding and supporting that speech. That basic premise is one that runs through the precedence of this Court and of others who have litigated these cases. It is not too much to say that the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is an essential predicate to the framework, the legal framework, that Citizens United presumes.

I would rather go further as well. As one of my constituents said, I would favor a constitutional amendment that would enable some limits consistent with the Constitution. Money is corrosive. Too much money in the system corrupts. But, again, we are not here to set limits, we are here to deal with secrecy, with anonymity. Secrecy and anonymity not only corrode, they destroy the essence of our democracy. By opening the system to the sunshine that will eliminate that secrecy, we are helping to restore trust and faith in government, and we would be showing that Washington will listen to the American people, including the people of Connecticut.

The Supreme Court decisions, like elections, have consequences, and Citizens United certainly has shown that it has consequences. During the 2010 midterm elections, the first election season after Citizens United, outside groups spent nearly $300 million--four times as much money as in the 2006 midterm election before the Citizens United decision. Nearly half of the money spent in the 2010 election after Citizens United was spent by just 10 groups. Think about it. Ten groups spent more than half of that $300 million.

As spending has quadrupled, transparency has been lessened. Nobody knows where this money is coming from. In 2006, only 1 percent of political spending by outside groups was anonymous. In 2010, 44 percent--nearly half--was anonymous. We know anonymity on the Internet or in the public sphere breeds negativism, it breeds deception, and often it breeds outright lies.

Accountability is one of the watch words of our democracy, and the anonymity of this spending, of these contributions of tens of millions--indeed, hundreds of millions of dollars that are contributed by a handful of people and entities, whether it is corporations or business associations or unions, is corrupting to the process.

The majority opinion in Citizens United dismissed concerns about unlimited political spending by claiming that prompt disclosure would make these entities and individuals accountable to shareholders, voters, consumers, and the public at large. Yet elections have been inundated with secret money.

Citizens United had consequences unintended and unanticipated by the Supreme Court. People may say: Well, the Justices were naive. But the fact is this body, the Congress, must compensate to ameliorate and remedy the unintended consequences of that decision. The American people have shown in polls as well as those letters I mentioned earlier that they expect us to do so. Seven in ten Americans believe super PACs should be illegal, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. This issue is not partisan. It should be bipartisan. It has been bipartisan in the past and must be again. More than seven in ten Americans feel there is too much money in politics, including, again, the majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Seven in ten Americans, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, believe there should be limits on contributions to political campaigns. One in four Americans say they are less likely to vote because of the super PACs and these anonymous donations. Finally, seven in ten Americans agree that ``new rules that let corporations, unions, and people give unlimited money to super PACs will lead to corruption.''

Let the Senate listen to the people of Connecticut and America. Let them say: We respect what you are saying again and again, and we will act in a bipartisan way to protect our democracy.

Americans want their choice of candidates to be an election, not an auction. At the very least, we should tell them and make possible for them to know who is doing the bidding in those auctions, who is doing the buying, and who is doing the selling. Nobody wants there to be an auction, but if contributions are not limited, the auction at the very least should be in the open so that the public can see who is buying, who is selling, and who is bidding. That view of American democracy may not be a very elevating one, but we deal with practical reality, and as we speak, tens of millions of Americans are watching what we will do. Maybe not tonight, perhaps not at this hour, but at the end of the day, at the end of this debate, they will hold the Senate accountable for what it does or what it fails to do.

I urge my colleagues to reconsider and approve the DISCLOSE Act of 2012.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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