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Public Statements

Disclose Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I first want to thank the Senator from New Hampshire for his great leadership on this issue and all the Senators who have been involved. I am a cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, and I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will strongly reconsider that vote today so we can actually go to a vote and actually debate this bill. This filibuster is basically putting a stop to the debate on an issue that is so important.

We get calls from people all across Minnesota. Yesterday people asked me in two parades: What is going on? What are these ads that we are seeing on TV?

They have a right to know what these groups are called, no matter what their names are, who is paying for those groups, who is paying for these ads, and that isn't happening today.

I am here to focus on the public's distrust of our political process and our need to ensure that the American people have a government that is responsive to their concerns. Free and fair elections in which every American has a right to make their voice heard at the voting booth are the cornerstone of our democracy. Yet in the wake of the Citizens United decision, a flood of special interest spending has undermined the faith of the people in our elections. By loosening the rules on campaign spending, Citizens United has led to a torrent of negative ads funded not by concerned citizens participating in democracy but by unlimited special interest money.

I don't think we thought we would see the day with all of the reforms that had been made where one billionaire can write a $10 million check or $20 million check. Under the system, candidates have to report every contribution that is $200 and over, and we have to painstakingly do our reports so the world, our constituents, and reporters can see them online. We have literally hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent where we cannot tell where that money came from. That is not right.

This type of campaign spending moves the focus of our elections away from the real issues facing American families but, worse, this unprecedented involvement of special interests in our political process has convinced the American people there is something wrong with how we conduct elections--and there is. Americans can see the increased role that special interests and even individual billionaires are playing in politics, heightening their suspicions that Washington works only for the powerful.

I constantly hear from the people of my State who justifiably believe the more money outside groups spend--secret money they are spending on these campaigns--the less their voices are heard. We cannot continue to allow faith in our democratic process to be eroded by the secretive influence of outside money. That is why I am a cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act.

The DISCLOSE Act heeds the wisdom of Justice Louis Brandeis that sunlight is the best disinfectant and will bring accountability and transparency to the special interest money that is inundating our elections and inundating the airwaves. The act requires that certain organizations, including corporations, unions, section 527 political groups, and so-called super PACs declare their campaign spending above a certain dollar amount. The act will ensure that Americans can find out the sources of funding for advertising they seek. Most importantly, they will prevent special interests from hiding behind the curtain as they attempt to influence our elections.

By setting the reporting threshold at $10,000, this carefully crafted act we just voted to go ahead with--and, unfortunately, is blocked by a filibuster--ensures that small businesses and other organizations will not be unduly burdened and that only significant political players will have to report their spending.

I know some people oppose the DISCLOSE Act on what they call first amendment grounds, but this bill doesn't limit free speech in any way. I don't agree with the notion that contribution limits and other restrictions on campaign spending are a threat to free speech. But even if we were to accept that argument, this bill does nothing to impact free speech. It does not contain any limits on contributions or spending or make any changes to our campaign finance system, as much as I think we need to do that.

In fact, I think the best way to do that is a constitutional amendment. But that is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about a simple bill called the DISCLOSE Act, which will ensure more transparency so we know what billionaire is spending how much money in each State on the ads we are seeing on TV.

In reality it is a modest bill in comparison to the size of the problem, but it is a first step toward bringing some sensibleness back to the elections. This bill simply ensures the public has access to information about the funding behind television ads and other election materials. In fact, even the majority opinion in Citizens United discussed the constitutionality and important benefits of disclosure. The opinion itself in Citizens United said this:

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 Supreme Court actually anticipated that Congress--in this decision that I don't agree with--might put some disclosure rules in place, but today we were blocked from doing that. Our campaign finance laws already require that many individual contributions, as I noted, be made public. I see no harm in holding outside groups and outside individuals to the same level of accountability.

Finally, this should not be a partisan issue. Senators in both parties have been leaders on campaign finance reform. As everyone knows, Senators MCCAIN and Feingold championed the most significant reforms in many years, and this bill is much less dramatic than those reforms.

I ask my colleagues to reconsider their vote. Our democracy literally depends on this. We have to know who is spending money so we can figure out why they are spending the money so people will understand the true intent behind these ads. They can't do it if they don't have the information, if someone is just pulling a curtain over their heads so they cannot see anything except the noise on the screen. They need to know what is behind it.

Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.

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