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Public Statements

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

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I think what I would like to do is actually share some of the thoughts from it.

Here is what Senator Rudman and Senator Hagel, two former Republican Senators, say:

Since the beginning of the current election cycle, extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and trade unions--all of them determined to influence who is in the White House next year--have spent more than $160 million.

Excluding party expenditures.

That's an incredible amount of money.

To put it in perspective, at this point in 2008, about $36 million had been spent on independent expenditures.

Independent meaning independent of a candidate's campaign.

In all of 2008, in fact, only $156 million was spent this way. In other words, we've already surpassed 2008, and it's July.

In the near term, there's nothing we can do to reverse this dramatic increase in independent expenditures.

These two distinguished former Republican Senators wrote:

Yet what really alarms us about this situation is that we can't find out who was behind these blatant attempts to control the outcome of our elections. We are inundated with extraordinarily negative advertising on television every evening and have no way to know who is paying for it and what their agenda might be. In fact, it's conceivable that we have created such a glaring loophole in our election process that foreign interests could directly influence the outcome of our elections and we might not even know it had happened until after the election, if at all.

This is because unions, corporations, ``super PACs'' and other organizations are able to make unlimited independent expenditures on our elections without readily and openly disclosing where the money they are spending is coming from. As a result, we are unable to get the information we need to decide who should represent us and take on our country's challenges.

Unlike the unlimited amount of campaign spending, the lack of transparency in campaign spending is something we can fix and fix right now--without opening the door to more scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

A bill being debated this week in the Senate called the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is a well-researched, well-conceived solution to this insufferable situation. Unfortunately, on Monday the Senate voted, mostly along party lines, to block the bill from going forward. But the DISCLOSE Act is not dead. As of now, it is 9 short of the 60 votes it needs.

They then describe the bill and continue:

We believe that every senator should embrace the DISCLOSE Act of 2012. This legislation treats trade unions and corporations equally and gives neither party an advantage. It is good for Republicans and it is good for Democrats. Most important, it is good for the American people.

What's more, every Senator considering re-election faces the possibility of being blindsided by a well-funded, anonymous campaign, challenging his or her record, integrity, or both. The act under consideration would prevent this from happening to anyone running for Congress.

Without the transparency offered by the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, we fear long-term consequences that will hurt our democracy profoundly. We are already seeing too many of our former colleagues leaving public office because the partisanship has become stifling and toxic. If campaigning for office continues to be so heavily affected by anonymous, out-of-district influences running negative advertising, we fear even more incumbents will decline to run and many of our most capable potential leaders will shy away from elective office.

No thinking person can deny that the current situation is unacceptable and intolerable. We urge all senators to engage in a bipartisan effort to enact this critically needed legislation. The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is a prudent and important first step in restoring some sanity to our Democratic process.

Then the article closes by identifying the authors: Former Senator Warren Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire, is a chairman of Americans for Campaign Reform, and former Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, introduced disclosure legislation in 2001.

While we await my colleagues who are scheduled to come to the floor, let me add that it is not unique or unusual that Senators Rudman and Hagel, former Republican Senators, should be supportive of the DISCLOSE Act and of disclosure of who is making these massive, now secret, contributions to buy influence in our elections. First of all, it is not surprising because it is so darned obvious. It should be obvious to any thinking person, as Senators Rudman and Hagel said, that when somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent--a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution--they are not doing that out of the goodness of their heart. They are not doing that just for the sheer fun of it. They are doing that because they have a motive. One doesn't spend $4 million in politics if one doesn't have a motive. If one thinks otherwise, one really needs to wake up and have a cup of coffee.

If we add to that the insistence on the funding being secret, there is only one reasonable conclusion that a thinking person can draw about why somebody who is spending that kind of money with a motive would want their spending and their identity to be secret, and that is because the motive is a crummy motive. It is a lousy motive for the American people. If the American people were excited about the motive, they wouldn't want to keep it secret. It is only because they want to do bad deeds in the dark.

When time permits again, I will go through some of the Republican Senators who have spoken out in favor of disclosure and transparency in the past. We all know from the debate last night that the minority leader has--and I will yield to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee as soon as he is prepared--Senator Alexander has been on record, as well as Senator Chambliss, Senator Sessions, Senator Cornyn, Senator Murkowski, Senator Collins, Senator Brown of Massachusetts, Senator Coburn, and, of course, most prominently and most courageously over a long period of time and with great distinction, Senator John McCain.

So at this moment, I will yield to my distinguished chairman and friend, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I appreciate him giving his voice to this debate.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I thank Chairman Leahy.

I ask unanimous consent, in terms of scheduling floor time, that Senator Manchin of West Virginia be recognized now for up to 5 minutes; that Senator McCain, if he is on the floor, be recognized at the conclusion of Senator Manchin's 5-minute period; and if Senator McCain is not present on the floor, that I be recognized in his stead.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, before I yield the floor to Senator Sanders, I wanted to take 1 minute and thank Senator McCain for his many years of principled advocacy in this area. People have written entire books about the work he has done. I think it was Elizabeth Drew who wrote one of the best books about the courage Senator McCain has shown over the years. So I come to this debate with enormous respect for him.

I will say the bill is not bipartisan, but that is not for lack of trying. We have reached out over and over again. In the face of an absolute stonewall on this subject, we have changed the bill ourselves in order to accommodate concerns. The stand-by-your-ad provision was criticized by the Republican witness in the Rules Committee, so we removed it. The National Rifle Association was livid about the $600 threshold because it would require them to disclose their members, so we raised it to $10,000. Over and over, where there have been substantive objections to the bill, we have met them.

At this point, not one Republican--for all of our contacts across the aisle--has expressed anyplace in this bill where an amendment could be made. We have never been given any language, we have never been shown the area that, in theory, is better for the unions. It is, as Senator McCain himself admitted, facially applied to corporations and unions and other organizations alike.

I would refer back to the op-ed in today's New York Times by Republican former Senators Rudman and Hagel agreeing this is, in fact, a fair bill. It is balanced among all parties, and all Senators should support it.

With that, I yield the floor to my colleague, Senator Sanders, with appreciation for allowing me that moment of his time.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I want to follow up a bit on what I said I would do earlier, because this has been in some respects half a debate. Other than my friend Senator McCain who has courageously fought on this issue for some years, we have not heard much from the other side of the aisle here, so in some respects it is only half of a debate. In another respect, of course, it is no debate at all, because we are in a filibuster situation with the Republicans blocking us actually going to the Senate debate on this bill. So while it is debate in the lay sense of the word--it is a discussion--it is not Senate debate on the floor, because we stand here being filibustered with a majority of Senators who demonstrably support going to this bill.

I said I would describe some of the things my Republican colleagues have said in the past about disclosure, so let me begin doing that.

Senator McConnell, of course, has very publicly been in favor of it. That may relate to the fact that a report by the Corporate Reform Coalition went State by State, and the Republican leader's home State of Kentucky has a ban on independent expenditures by corporations in its State constitution. Its State constitution bans the conduct that is at issue here. Kentucky has disclosure provisions that require disclosure when independent expenditures of over $500 are made in any one election. He is here objecting to a $10,000 limit, and Kentucky disclosure provisions ``require disclosure when independent expenditures of over $500 are made in any one election.'' It further requires under Kentucky statute 121.190, subpart 1, that the name of the advertising sponsor must be put on any communication. So consistent with the laws of his home State, our Republican leader has for many years stood out in favor of disclosure. Around 2000 he said, ``Republicans are in favor of disclosure.'' And he said:

Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate.

Other leaders on the Republican side, such as Senator Alexander, have said:

I support campaign finance reform, but to me that means individual contributions, free speech and full disclosure. In other words, any individual can give whatever they want as long as it is disclosed every day on the Internet.

That is exactly what this bill does, but only for donations $10,000 and more. I don't believe there was a floor in Senator Alexander's remarks.

I see the distinguished Senator from Iowa has arrived. In the spirit of going back and forth, I yield the floor.

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