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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CASEY. Mr. President, I rise tonight to join what so many have spoken of tonight, which is our system of electing officials to various levels of government. In the case of the Federal Government we are always concerned about how that process plays out. We live in a country where for generations now we have urged people to come to the public square, in a sense, to vote, to participate, to use their free speech rights, their freedom of association--the rights they have to participate in elections.

What we are confronted with now, without the passage or in the absence of the passage of this legislation, is what I would say are special rules for secret money--or maybe better said, special rules for a small group of individuals or entities to spend secret money.

We, in Pennsylvania, as one of the buildings in the Capital area, have the finance building. It is a building I worked in for a decade. When it was built in the 1930s, they had as inscriptions around the border, the perimeter at the top of the building, precepts about government, what it should be, so people who worked in that building would aspire to higher ideals.

One of the inscriptions says the following:

Open to every inspection. Secure from every suspicion.

A pretty simple precept. I think we all understand what that means. If we have a system or a candidate or an organization or a process that is open to inspection, the chances of there being suspicion about that candidate or about that process or about that organization would be diminished. So more disclosure, more scrutiny.

We all know the old direction--I am not quite sure who said this, but we have all used this--the idea of sunlight being the best disinfectant, to make sure we keep our political process open.

It is baffling to me why someone would not want to vote for this legislation when we consider the language. It is legislation which barely gets to the 20th page. It is not very long. I was looking at page 5 of the authors of the bill--Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, who has done great work on this, and so many others who worked with him--the language on page 5 says as follows: It is under the title ``Disclosure Statement.'' It is very simple language:

Any covered organization that makes campaign-related disbursements aggregating more than $10,000 in an election reporting cycle shall--

And this is the mandatory part--

not later than 24 hours after each disclosure date, file a statement with the [Federal Election] Commission made under penalty of perjury that contains information described in paragraph (2).

Then it goes on to describe what you have to disclose. It is very simple. I don't know how you could be opposed to that if you believe in debates in the public square. It is not as if we say to people: Come to the public square, but a few of you can go into a corner. We are going to cloak you in secrecy. You are going to be in the shadows. Everyone else in the public square is going to know who is on the square, is going to know what your point of view is, what is your position in the light because there are a couple of others who we are going to be put in the shadows, but the rest of you don't worry about it.

It sounds strange, doesn't it? It doesn't sound very American.

I think when people see what happened in the last couple of years, they are very concerned that we have a system now that has too much of this secret money. There is too much money in the shadows without the sunlight providing the disinfectant.

When you consider what we are doing now and compare it to what has happened over the last generation where candidates not only file reports about who has contributed to their campaigns but even their advertising--they have disclaimers at the bottom of the advertising. Now in the more recent period the candidate, himself or herself, has to identify themselves by name and say that they paid for the ad.

This legislation doesn't get to that. It focuses on the basic question of disclosure so a citizen can say: This organization made this assertion in an advertisement, and I am going to find out who they are so I can make a judgment about the advertisement before I vote.

It is very simple. It is how our system works. People go to the public square, they have a debate, there is a lot of sunlight, a lot of disclosure, and the debates are freewheeling. They are tough, but they are in the open, and they comply with that precept I started with. They are open to every inspection, and therefore the chances of suspicion are lessened because everything is out in the open.

That is all this is. It is providing a measure or degree of sunlight into that process, into that public square. So if all these generations of reform have told us--which I think they have told us, and I know this is true in Pennsylvania--that more disclosure, more sunlight, more scrutiny is going to lead to better elections and better participation, I don't think we should run counter to that history.

I am not trying to assert that everything else about our elections is perfect. We still have a lot of other reforms we could institute. But at least we can give people some measure of confidence that when they hear an assertion in that public square they are going to know where it comes from. They are going to know the origin of that statement. They are going to know the bias or point of view, and they are going to make a judgment about that before they exercise their right to vote.

We should allow people that opportunity to maybe be a little bit suspicious, but it is hard to be secure in your knowledge about information if you do not know where it comes from, if you do not know who is the real speaker, and you do not know their point of view.

I think there are a lot of Americans who know our system is not perfect even with passage of this legislation, but they at least say to us: Let's at least remove the possibility, which I think is evident now, that you have a small group of people who are allowed to spend this secret money and, therefore, elevate or raise suspicion, and maybe even cynicism, about our system.

Let's be open to every inspection and to every measure of scrutiny, and let's bring our points of view to the public square as we have for so many generations. Let's pass the DISCLOSE Act and make sure that at a minimum, as tough as times are for a lot of people right now, at least they are going to have the information they need about point of view before they vote.

I yield the floor.


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