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Transcript of Pelosi, Democratic Leaders Press Conference Reintroducing DISCLOSE Act

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Steve Israel and Congressman Keith Ellison held a press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center to announce the reintroduction of the DISCLOSE Act. The DISCLOSE Act outlaws unlimited, secret contributions to political campaigns. Below is a transcript of the press conference:

Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon. I am very honored to be standing here this afternoon with three leaders in the Congress of the United States: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Steve Israel, and Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota. We are here to talk about the DISCLOSE Act.

Democrats, as you know, are committed to reigniting the American dream, to building ladders of opportunity for all Americans who want to play by the rules, work hard, and take responsibility. We believe that can only happen for them where they have fairness and opportunity in our society and our economy, if there is fairness in our political system.

The DISCLOSE Act that we are here to talk about today, which is sponsored by Congressman Van Hollen once again, and I thank him for his leadership, will go a long way in saying to -- he will go over the provisions, but "disclose' means just that. We want to know where the secret, substantial money is coming from that is going into campaigns. It is part of a reform initiative that we have to disclose and win the election, and when we do, reform the system, and at the same time amend the Constitution so that the role of money is greatly diminished. We believe that is an important contribution we have to make to the future of our country and the strength of our democracy.

I honestly believe if we reform the system to diminish the role of money in the system, if we reduce the power of money in the political system, we will increase the number of women and minorities who will be elected to public office. My experience, as one who has tried to encourage more participation, is that people say, "how would I ever raise the money?' That shouldn't be. That shouldn't be the reason why people run or do not run for public office. Nothing is more wholesome to the political system, and our system of government, than the increased participation of women and minorities in our system.

So, again, we are here. We think the first step in all of this is the DISCLOSE Act, to put it out there. While we may not have the votes to pass it in the House, I hope we do. We passed it before, under Chris Van Hollen's leadership. It failed by one vote in the Senate. They didn't have 60 votes, because they didn't have 60 Democrats, 59 votes. But if we speak about this to the public, and Mr. Ellison is going to address that, we believe that pressure will be on, even without a law. Because shareholders, employees, customers, will want to know what the political contributions are to campaigns.

Now, it is my honor to yield the floor to the distinguished gentleman from Maryland, who wears many hats. He is the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, he serves on the conference on the payroll tax cut, and he was the author of the DISCLOSE Act in the previous Congress and has reintroduced it again today.

Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you.

Mr. Van Hollen. Well, thank you, Leader Pelosi, and thank you for your leadership on the DISCLOSE Act, as well as making sure the American people get a fair shake. I am pleased to be here with my colleagues, Mr. Israel and Mr. Ellison, in announcing that we are introducing the DISCLOSE Act today.

The American people deserve a political system that is fair, that is transparent, and that is accountable. And, if the political system is fair, transparent, and accountable, we believe that will result in policies that are fair to the American people. And as the President said in his State of the Union address, and as we have said repeatedly; "the American people deserve a fair shake.' Everybody deserves the same fair shake, the same shot and opportunity in this country; and, to do that, we should have a political system that responds to their needs, not to who is bankrolling various campaigns.

So, what this says is, let's get rid of secret money in American politics. Let's make sure that when people contribute to these outside groups that we are seeing, whether the contributors are corporations or other entities, whoever they may be, that they have to disclose who they are, they have to report who the contributors are, that the American people have a right to know who is bankrolling these television ads they are watching. So that is one thing it does.

Another thing it does is it requires that people stand by their ads. People are familiar that when Members of Congress run TV ads, they say, you know, I approved this ad. This simply requires these outside groups to take responsibility for the ads that they are running; and it requires them to identify, in writing, the top five contributors to those ads, who is paying the cost, who is footing the bill for those ads that are being run.

It also requires that corporations inform their shareholders of the investments they are making in political campaigns. If corporations are spending money to run TV ads, then they should be informing their shareholders of that fact.

And it requires lobbyists, registered lobbyists, also to report their campaign contributions. Because, these days, you can make secret campaign contributions, and we believe those folks who are being paid to try and influence the lawmaking process should also have to disclose their efforts to pay for campaign ads to help elect the very people that they may turn around and try and lobby.

So, the focus is on making sure the American people know who is funding these campaign ads, with the ultimate purpose being to create a legislative process where people have a fair shake.

And we are going to be asking, we are going to ask our Members to sign a discharge petition. We think we should bring this bill to the floor. Well over 80 percent of the American people, probably higher, believe that the Citizens United decision was a bad decision for our democracy; and people overwhelmingly support the idea of getting rid of the secret money in politics. In other words, at the very least, asking people to disclose who is financing these campaigns, who is financing these political advertisements.

So that is what the bill does. The message is as simple as the title: DISCLOSE. You should have nothing to fear, unless you have got something to hide. And we are just saying in here, the simple message that we want people to disclose the source of the contributions behind these TV ads that are seeking to influence the political process.

So, with that, let me introduce my friend and colleague, Steve Israel, who has worked on many different reform issues since he has been here; and I am really pleased to have him supporting this effort on DISCLOSE.

Mr. Israel. Thanks very much to my colleague, Chris Van Hollen. Chris, as you know, chaired the DCCC. I chair it now. This is a kind of hostage exchange program that we have done--and Leader Pelosi and Keith Ellison.

I am going to be very, very brief.

In 2010, about one third of all so called independent expenditures came from secret sources and corporate front groups. They weren't so independent. They were based on profit motive. They were secret. They were unfair. They were an assault on the middle class. Look, you can run for office, but you cannot hide behind your secret donors. It is just that simple.

The middle class has taken an absolute beating, and part of that is because special interests and corporate front groups have been assaulting the middle class simply in order to protect their right to pollute, protect their right to price gouge, and protect their right to profits.

We believe in profits. We also believe that there should be honesty and transparency in our elections, and that is what the DISCLOSE Act is all about.

Democracy requires accountability; accountability requires transparency; and transparency requires the DISCLOSE Act. And we are going to hold accountable every single Republican who ran for office promising to reform the system, and then, when it comes time to standing up with their constituents for accountability, and they instead stand up for secrecy and slush donations, we are going to hold them accountable for that.

This is going to be one of the hallmark moments. This is going to be the dividing line between those of us who believe in honesty and openness, reform, transparency, and those who will continue to protect the powerful in order to advance their own special interests. We are going to hold them accountable.

I can't think of many of our colleagues who have been fighting as relentlessly as Keith Ellison to represent the interests of working families and the middle class, and I am pleased to yield to him.

Mr. Ellison. Thank you, Steve.

Whether you are talking about the Occupy movement, or the Tea Party, or anybody in between, there is one thing that Americans, 80 percent of Americans, are solid on, and that is they should have transparency in government. Secret money manipulating outcomes for special interests is repulsive to Americans. And it doesn't matter what part of the political spectrum they come from, they are upset about it. So, because they have called for transparency, we need to engage in true partnership with them to pass the DISCLOSE Act as a first step.

We need citizen sponsors, citizens sponsors who can sign up and say we want to cosponsor this bill. As a citizen, put my name down there for the DISCLOSE Act; put my name down there for transparency.

But we also want to call on friends who are municipal leaders. City councils across this country are calling on Congress to make sure there is disclosure. The city of New York, the city of Los Angeles, Duluth, Minnesota, in my own state, and many others across America, are passing resolutions saying we need disclosure. We need to get corporate money out. And we are calling on municipal leaders, citizens.

People often ask us, what can I do? Madam Speaker, what can I do as a citizen? Well, what we can have people do is sign up and place their name on the side of disclosure; and we are going to be organizing all across this country, working with people in local communities for whoever believes we should have transparency in government and honesty. And let the voice of the people prevail. So we will be embarking on a massive organizing effort to make sure that we can get the wind behind the sails that will push this boat of disclosure down the road.

Thank you very much.

Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Keith.

Any questions? Yes, sir.

Q: In the interim, before Congress is to enact this, do you think that SuperPACs that support both the President's campaign and any congressional Democratic campaign should voluntarily disclose their sources?

Leader Pelosi. Absolutely. Absolutely. The President has made a decision, which I think was a wise one, that he was not going to unilaterally disarm and leave the field to the Koch brothers to decide who would be President of the United States and who would control the Congress. And his commitment was for full disclosure. And that is why, we were scheduled to do this this week anyway, but the timing could not be better, because it affords us the opportunity to say to you that the Democrats in their fundraising will be fully disclosing.

And, by the way, we are asking people to contribute to us if they want to elect more reformers to Congress, so that we can do away with SuperPACs, we can do away with secret contributions, we can reform the system, we can amend the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision.

Any comments on that?

Q: Speaker Pelosi, you just said you offer full disclosure. As one of the top fund raisers for Democrats, will you raise money for any of these SuperPACs?

Leader Pelosi. Well, we are limited as to what we can do for a SuperPAC. We can say that it is something that we would support. I can raise $5,000 from a donor for it. But that is not a big effort that will move us along. But, yes, I will. And the House Majority PAC, like the President's PAC, Priorities USA, both have full disclosure. And, as I said, our pitch is support us if you want to elect reformers to do away with these PACs.

Q: Leader Pelosi, on another issue…

Leader Pelosi. Before we go to another issue, because, as you can see, this is a full-fledged effort on our part, one that we have been working on for a long time, one that we think is fundamental to our democracy and fairness in our system in every way, so I want to see if there are any other questions on this subject, or any other comments my colleagues would like to make.

Mr. Van Hollen. Just one quick comment.

You know, over many years there have been debates on campaign finance reform, and the answer Republicans used to always give when it came to campaign reform was: we need disclosure. We need transparency. We don't need limits. We don't need to put any restrictions on giving, because disclosure will take care of the problem.

I am hoping that they are going to sign onto this bill. Because what happened just two years ago was, we passed it out of the House, as Leader Pelosi said. We got more than a majority of votes. We had 59 votes in the Senate, every Democrat and the independents voting for cloture, so they could have a majority vote. But 59 votes obviously wasn't enough. In fact, if it hadn't been for the passing of Senator Kennedy, the DISCLOSE Act would be the law of the land. We would have had 60 votes. We would have passed the DISCLOSE Act.

But now we are in a situation where Republicans, having said for years and years, "let's have disclosure,' they want secrecy. They want to hide the ball. They don't want the American people to know who is funding these outside groups that support their efforts.

So, what we are saying is, everybody should have to disclose. Regardless of what issue you are supporting, regardless of what candidate you are supporting, the American people have a right to know. And that is a very simple idea, but it is also a very powerful idea. And, as Keith Ellison said, we think the American people will respond very strongly to that call, and we hope our Republican colleagues will listen to them.

Q: Do you have any reason to believe that this might actually go to a vote? And, if not, sort of what is the strategy? Are you going to talk about it a lot?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I think that the public visibility of the issue, as I say to you all the time; President Lincoln said: "public sentiment is everything.' And to the extent, as Mr. Ellison said, responding to the need for this and the urgency that people out there see for it, reaching out to others to build the drumbeat across America that it can be better, that we can have this disclosure, you never know what action this Republican Congress might take.

I am not overwhelmingly optimistic, because the lack of transparency and accountability has served them well. But we just have to make sure they know that the public is aware of what is happening here, has served the Republicans well, that is. The lack of transparency and accountability that exists here is counter to the well-being of the American people.

Most people think, the one place they center on is the tax code, and they say the reason the tax code isn't fair, why the wealthiest people get big tax breaks and the middle class pays the price, is because special interests weigh in in Washington, D.C., on that tax code. And we are saying: "okay, let's see where that money is coming from, and why, and now let's address it, simplify, and make more fair our tax code,' for one example of how this issue is related to fairness in our society and the well-being of the American people.

Now, if we are going to another subject--are you still on this?

Q: Yes, real quickly.

Leader Pelosi. Thank you.

Q: Madam Leader, how much has President Obama damaged his credibility on campaign finance by going outside the federal election system in '08 and now embracing SuperPACs?

Mr. Israel. Well, I don't think at all.

Look, I am a big baseball fan. I have never been to a baseball game ever where one side was told: "you don't get bats.' He is going to compete fairly and effectively and, as the Leader said, nobody should expect this President to cede the election to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. We believe that contributions should be disclosed, we believe in transparency, honesty, and we are going to compete based on those standards. This is the moment of truth for truth in campaigns.

Leader Pelosi. And I agree, and I am glad that the President took the courageous stand that he did. Because the fact is: you never know what is next with these guys. They will come up with some other way to channel tens, or hundreds of millions of dollars, a small price for them to pay out of their massive fortunes, just the price of doing business for them to reap the benefits of policies that are counter to the middle class and to their benefit.

Okay. Thank you for your interest in the DISCLOSE Act.

All right.

Q: Okay. So Republicans have said they are going to introduce legislation to repeal the decision by HHS in terms of religious institutions and contraceptives. Do you support the administration on its decision and what is your response to the Republicans saying that the move is actually unconstitutional?

Leader Pelosi. I certainly do support the President's decision.

Just for a little history, as you may know, and remember, during the Affordable Care Act debate and the decisions that were made there, a waiver was given to Catholic churches not to have to include coverage for contraception for their employees directly, those working for Catholic churches. Now, there is a move for some to expand that to universities and hospitals, and indeed they have even said they want this to apply to all employers, not just Catholic employers, to all employers.

This is about women's health. If there is one thing, one of the things that is a priority for the women in Congress, many of the Catholic women in Congress, it is the health of American women. This is about the privacy and right of families to determine whether they want to use contraception to determine the size and the timing of their having children, the size and timing of their families.

So this is an issue. Ninety-eight percent of Catholics, they tell us, use contraception. Overwhelming numbers of people in our country support the President's decision, including, they tell us, or at least you all tell us, a majority of Catholics. So I support it.

If it comes to the floor, we will use this as a welcome debate to talk about the importance of women's health. It is not just about the women. It is about their children and the health of their families as they make serious decisions and use contraception to determine, as I said, the size and timing of their families.

So that will be a debate that we welcome. It is a sad one. We shouldn't have to be to the place where people are saying, when the overwhelming practice is going in favor of women's health, that we want to pull that back and use the excuse of religious freedom, which, of course, this is not.

I think we are here next.

Q: Madam Leader, I wanted to ask you just a little bit about the payroll tax negotiations that are ongoing and if you would like to comment on them. We heard the Speaker in here a little bit ago, and he was making the basic point that there is not votes in either the Senate, or the House, to pass a surtax on millionaires and that Democrats should give up on it. Today, ABC News had a poll out that showed still 72 percent of Americans support a surtax on Americans. How do you think this is going to get resolved with this disconnect? And, the numbers aren't necessarily there?

Leader Pelosi. Since Mr. Van Hollen is one of our conferees, I will let him begin.

Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, Madam Leader.

Let me start with just a fundamental inconsistency in the position that the Republicans have. They have a double standard. The first thing they did when they became the majority party in the House of Representatives, was to pass a rule saying that when it comes to providing tax cuts for millionaires and the wealthiest, you don't have to pay for them. You are going to put that on the national credit card, put it on the deficit. That was their position. They put that in their rule. That will amount to about 1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

Now, they are saying, when it comes to a temporary 10 month extension of the payroll tax cut, that benefits not the very wealthy, but benefits 160 million working Americans, that we have to offset that by making cuts in other areas that are going to hurt the middle class. I mean, you have heard them. They have talked about increasing Medicare premiums.

So, our view is that, if we are going to talk about offsetting the costs, and that is fine, you need to look at areas that don't hurt the middle class, and that is why we have proposed the surcharge on millionaires. That was a proposal put forward by the Democrats in the Senate. It is supported overwhelmingly by the American people, as you indicated.
So, if Republicans are going to change the rules of the game and say: "okay, for a payroll tax cut for 160 million, you have to have offsets, we don't play by those rules for the very wealthy,' then our view is, well, let's not take it out of the middle class. If they want to look at some other proposals like, you know, ending some of the subsidies on oil and gas industries, or other special interest tax breaks as revenue sources, fine. But we have had that proposal out there, and we think it is the right way to go.

Q: Mr. Van Hollen, on the payroll tax, did your side come in high on the number of weeks for unemployment insurance, the 93 weeks on that offer, in an effort to try to extract some of these concessions: corporate jets, millionaire surtax, oil and gas taxes, or something, in exchange for that?

Mr. Van Hollen. What we are trying to do is move this process forward. I just want to remind everybody that the President of the United States was before the Congress last September proposing an extension of the payroll tax cut, an extension of Unemployment Insurance, a way to deal with seniors who are on Medicare to make sure that their providers, their doctors, have the pay they need. That was last September. We should have gotten this done a long time ago.

And, first, we had all the extraneous issues that Republicans attempted to add last December that meant we could only do this for two months; and even in the last couple of weeks they have again said: "well, you have got to prevent these new clean regulations, mercury, clean air regulations. We have to stop those if you want us to support a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.'

That makes no sense. Let's deal with these things on the merits.

With respect to UI, we actually, in good faith, put forward an offer that was less than the 99 months, which would be a continuation of the existing UI. So, look, we are doing everything we can to move this process forward. We would like a little reciprocity.

And I will just end with this observation. You just look at the public record. You have a whole lot of Republicans in the House of Representatives who are on record opposing a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans. So the attitude many of them have taken is: "if you want to extend this for another 10 months, you have to somehow pay a price for that.' I don't think the American people think that we should have to block clean air regulations in order to provide tax cuts for 160 million Americans. That is not right.

Mr. Ellison. May I add that this whole debate around the extension of the payroll tax deduction, and UI, and Speaker Boehner's position that there is no support for it, when 72 percent of Americans say that an appropriate way to pay for this would be to tax the wealthiest Americans, is exactly why the DISCLOSE Act is absolutely necessary now.

People believe, whether it is true or not, and I believe it is true, but people believe that the reason that their government will not respond to the overwhelming majority of them is because of the excessive influence of money in politics.

So, I am hoping that we can use, this is like Exhibit A, as to why we have got to disclose and why we need to get corporate money out of politics.

Mr. Israel. And may I just add, not to pile on, but, look, this explains why they are plummeting in virtually every single national poll of House Republicans. They are so out of touch and so disconnected. There is an intuitive sense in this country that the only thing about the middle class tax cut that House Republicans don't like is the middle class. The first time in the history of Republicans that they have become frugal when it comes to tax cuts, that they have found one condition after another, one exchange after another, to hold up this tax cut for the middle class.

We need to pass the DISCLOSE Act, but the Republicans are actually disclosing themselves as proactively hostile to the middle class, and this explains why they are where they are in every single national poll.

Leader Pelosi. In closing, I want to stay this. If this Congress were a reflection of the will of the American people, we would have an extension of the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, and it would be paid for by the surcharge. They know what is right. They know we should do this because it is good for the economy as well as good for these families. They know that if it has to be paid for, that it should come from a place that does not harm the middle class. They know we shouldn't grant with one hand a tax cut and take away with the other hand, saying now you are going to pay for it in other ways.

The American people are very wise. If we are to be relevant in meeting their needs and representative of their values and their knowledge -- and they are wise -- we would pass the payroll tax cut, and we would do so with a surcharge, if it has to be paid for at all. If there is fairness and symmetry in this, we didn't pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, again, why should we pay for them for the middle class? But if they have to be paid for, 72 percent of the American people have the wisdom to know.

Something has intervened between the wisdom of the American people and the decisions of the Republicans in Congress. That is the conversation we will be having.

Now, let me just say one more thing. We are here a couple of weeks before the deadline, two and a half weeks before the deadline. In January, nobody was around. We kept calling for the Republicans to come back to do the work that was necessary so we were not pushed against a deadline. We come back next week, and then we are out after that, and we come back just in time for the deadline.

So, really, there is no reason why they shouldn't go to the table and honor what overwhelming numbers, on two occasions, of the House of Representatives, in a bipartisan way, voted to say: "get this done by February 17th.' The only conclusion you could draw is that the Republicans do not, as Mr. Israel said, and Mr. Van Hollen said, do not support a payroll tax cut for middle income people.

But we are here to represent the people, to be a reflection of their values and their priorities. They want a tax cut, and they want it paid for by a surcharge.

Thank you all very much for coming this afternoon.

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