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Public Statements

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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I first thank Senator Whitehouse for his leadership. I am proud to join him and so many of my colleagues in supporting and cosponsoring the legislation in front of us. I thank the majority leader for his comments, and all of those who care deeply about, frankly, our democracy, which is what we are talking about this evening.

I strongly believe in the DISCLOSE Act and think it is critical as step 1. I think there is much more that needs to be done even as we go forward to add to this. But this is a very important, basic standard of transparency. If someone spends $10,000 on ads trying to affect an election, people should know who they are. It is just as simple as that.

I think it is important for us to emphasize the fact that the majority of the Senate this evening voted for this bill. The reason we did not pass the bill tonight is that the Republicans, colleagues on the other side of the aisle, are putting us in a situation where we have to reach 60 votes and therefore, by not doing that, they are filibustering the bill. So they are blocking the bill. They are filibustering the bill. We have a majority. All we want is a vote. Give us a vote. If we had an up-or-down vote on this bill, this bill would have been passed. I think it is incredibly important for everyone to understand that. It is not that we do not have the support. We have the votes. It was demonstrated this evening.

At the moment what we do not have is the supermajority to get past a filibuster. I urge everyone listening or watching tonight to contact their Members, to urge them to support the effort to stop the filibuster--which is what we are talking about right now.

Unfortunately, for everyone in America, we know this is going to be the most negative campaign cycle in the history of the country. Secretly funded negative ads with ominous music and shadowy figures and vicious attacks are going to fill our living rooms for the months between now and the election. In fact, in many States that has already been happening very intensely.

We know why. We have been talking about that--a Court decision that has tied money to free speech, corporations are people, money equals free speech. That creates a situation where now we are being told through the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that we, in fact, cannot put limits on corporate money or union money or any other kind of dollars coming in because it is under the category of free speech.

It has opened the floodgates for secret money allowing special interests--and that is who is spending the money, special interests with their own agenda--to spend unlimited funds to essentially buy elections, buy a U.S. Senate that works for them, a U.S. House of Representatives, a Presidency that works for them. It is not the majority of Americans, not the folks who got up this morning and went to work. Maybe they took a shower before work, but maybe they took a shower after work--the folks working very hard every day, trying to hold it together, who have been through the toughest recession we have seen since the Great Depression, who have most likely struggled with their house underwater and credit card debt too high and trying to piece together one or two or three part-time jobs to hold things together for their families. They are not the ones who are funding these secret ads. It is not their secret money.

What we know so far is that over half the money that has come in has been from 17 multimillionaires in our country. When we think about that, it is pretty worrisome. When we think about the fact that 17 or 18 or 20 people in our country could decide to buy a form of government that works for them, that is certainly not a democracy. I think this bill is part of an effort that we are all working to achieve, to protect the basics of our democracy.

It is not about making judgments for people about whom they should vote for, whom they should support, how they should be involved in elections. It is about making sure we all know--that the American people know--who is spending the money so each American can make their own judgment about the agenda of the people who are spending the money and whether that reflects their own agenda and their own values.

This is simply about shining the light of day, opening up a process, transparency, so each of us can make our own judgments about whom we choose to believe and not believe in this political process.

When we run TV ads, the law requires us to disclose. We go on at the end of the ad and say: I am Senator Stabenow, and I approved this message. Personally, I don't see why someone else running it should not be doing that too. I know the sponsor of this bill agrees with that as I know do my colleagues on this side of the aisle. But we are not even asking that. We are simply saying if someone spends $10,000 or more, they need to disclose it. They need to put it on a Web site so the public has the opportunity to know who they are and how much they are spending.

There are a couple of brothers we talk about a lot now because of the money they have been openly talking about spending. It has been in the papers. Certainly, it has been in the media for months--two gentlemen called the Koch brothers who have been spending millions and millions of dollars. I don't know what the final numbers will be. I have seen numbers that show each of the two of them say they want to spend $200 million, $400 million together.

I don't know, maybe more to impact the elections. I think it is a important for the people in Michigan, the people of Rhode Island, the people in Colorado, and across the country to know they are doing that. They should know who they are and how much is being spent in order to make a judgment about how they are choosing to spend their money. If someone, whoever it is, is spending $10,000 on influencing elections through ads, Americans have a right to know.

We know right now from the way we have been able to piece together what is happening that we are talking about big, wealthy, special interest. It is no surprise as to who is spending the money. What is their motivation? What are they trying to buy? I know there are those who would like to keep special tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. We are going to have a chance, once we complete this debate, to vote on legislation of mine called the Bring Jobs Home Act. There are those who don't want us to eliminate the tax break that allows folks who are shipping jobs overseas to write it off their taxes, which I find outrageous. There are folks on the other side shipping jobs overseas who want to keep that tax break, and they may very well want to spend money against candidates and against Members who vote for my bill.

We know big oil companies want to keep taxpayer subsidies even though they are the most profitable companies in the history of the world. Probably when the tax incentives started in 1916, it made a lot of sense for new and emerging companies. It doesn't make sense today, from a taxpayer standpoint, to be paying high prices at the pump from one pocket and subsidies to companies out of the other. We know they may very well want to spend money to be able to keep those subsidies. Seventy-three percent of Americans want to end oil and gas subsidies, but the special interests are fighting to keep them. We know there is money being spent in the elections, secret money, to support people who will keep those tax subsidies.

So the question is: Why is this in the public interest? In America, the greatest democracy in the world, why in the world are we letting this happen? Our democracy is not for sale. It should not be for sale, and we are fighting to make sure it is not for sale. The people of our country are the ones who have the power to decide who represents them, and it should not be a group of anonymous billionaires somewhere who are able to do that.

So when those billionaires want to buy attack ads and influence our votes, the least they can do is have the courage to come forward and say how much they are spending and put their name to it and be able to have to disclose that to everybody. The American people have a right to know. The people in Michigan have the right to know. We have already seen millions of dollars being spent in Michigan, and people have the right to know who is spending that money. What is their background? What is their interest? They need to know so they can make their own judgment about whether it has any credibility.

The 2010 midterm election saw a more than 400-percent increase in spending from what has been called the super PAC. That is a 400-percent increase in spending 2 years ago.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's 10 minutes has expired.

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, if I might just have 1 more minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Ms. STABENOW. Let me indicate also that in the first 4 months of this year, 90 percent of all outside money being spent on this coming November Presidential election was secret. Again, that is 90 percent of what was spent in just the first 4 months of this year was secret. This is about openness, transparency, and whether everyone in our country is going to have the opportunity to have information to make their own judgments. We need to be allowed to pass this bill. We need an up-or-down vote on this issue. We need to stop the filibuster that is happening by the Republicans on the other side of the aisle. Stop blocking the bill. Let us vote on it. We have the votes to get it passed. The American people deserve to have this passed.

I yield the floor.


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