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Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, I rise this evening in support of the DISCLOSE Act, legislation to shine some sunlight onto our elections, to restore transparency and accountability into this Nation's political campaigns.
The DISCLOSE Act is a responsible step toward making sure that people decide the course of our future; that people make their own choices based on good information; that people always have the ability to hold this government accountable through transparency.
Right now, that's not the case.
On January 21 of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that gave power to corporations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns--with no transparency whatsoever.
That includes foreign corporations, by the way. So, for example, it would be pretty easy for a Chinese company to start spending a lot of money to influence American elections, again, with no transparency whatsoever.
The Citizens United decision has already dealt a blow to our democracy. It is allowing a handful of billionaires, corporations and secretive groups that represent special interests to try and buy votes.
That already happened in Montana once. And the people of Montana put a stop to it one hundred years ago.
At the turn of last century, one of the world's wealthiest men literally bought himself a seat in the U.S. Senate. His name was William Clark. He was one of the mining barons of the Gilded Age. Mr. Clark left his mark across this Nation. In fact, Clark County, Nevada, is named for him.
Back then, Montana's legislature got to choose who served in the U.S. Senate. So William Clark paid as many legislators as he could to send him to Washington.
In fact, he spent a staggering $431,000 buying his Senate seat in 1899. That's equivalent to about $11 million today.
This bold bribery was a national scandal back then. And it shaped Montana forever. Because of what William Clark did, Montana passed a law in 1912 limiting the influence of wealthy corporations over our elections.
And just as important, the scandal showed us that as Montanans, transparency prevents corruption. Transparency allows for accountability.
Mr. President, transparency in government is a fundamental value in Montana.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Montana's important 1912 law to guarantee transparency and accountability in our elections.
Citing its own Citizens United decision--and the idea that corporations somehow have the same rights as individual people--the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out Montana's century-old law.
Now the secretive special interests are taking full advantage of this uneven playing field. They are buying up millions of dollars of time on the airwaves, blanketing Montana with lies and distortions in order to influence voters. And Montanans are getting sick of it.
Like 100 years ago, a few millionaires and billionaires are bankrolling secretive campaign spending.
And they are steamrolling our democracy, because they are doing it in secret, with no accountability and transparency.
I support undoing the Citizens United decision by amending the U.S. Constitution. That's a heavy lift. But it's one I, along with many of my colleagues, support. And in the meantime, let's make our elections more transparent. I join most Montanans when I say that any money spent influencing voters ought to be transparent, no matter where it comes from.
That is exactly what this DISCLOSE Act does.
Mr. President, I don't think anyone here has heard complaints about too much transparency when it comes to political TV ads.
The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization or individual who spends $10,000 or more on a political campaign to report that expenditure within 24 hours.
No organization or type of organization is exempt. It applies to superpacs, unions, and so-called ``issue advocacy'' organizations.
That is not stifling free speech. That is responsibility. It is accountability.
The DISCLOSE Act strengthens our freedom to make' informed decisions about our democracy.
And for folks in Montana, it's a chance for us to put our priorities back ahead of special interests, for Montanans to make their own choices free from the influence of unlimited spending by multinational corporations.
It's what the people of this Nation deserve. I urge all of my colleagues to vote for that transparency.
A vote against the DISCLOSE Act is a vote to allow secretive special interests to buy something that should never, ever be for sale--our democracy and the power to make our own decisions, with good information, full transparency, and full accountability.
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Mr. TESTER. Well, anytime transparency and accountability is an intimidation, that means there is a different agenda behind that money. I say that I think the DISCLOSE Act is a well-crafted, smart bill that allows transparency and accountability in our election process. When accountability and transparency become a bad thing, we are in big trouble in this country.
I thank the Senator for the question.
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