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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, here we are with 41 months of over 8 percent unemployment in America, and the national defense authorization bill is languishing in the shadows while we continue to have this debate and, obviously, there is no doubt in most people's minds that--with the full knowledge of the sponsors of this legislation that it will not pass--it is obviously for certain political purposes.

I oppose cloture on the motion. My reasons for opposing this motion are simple, even though the subject of campaign finance reform is not. In its current form, the DISCLOSE Act is closer to a clever attempt at political gamesmanship than actual reform.

By conveniently setting high thresholds for reporting requirements, the DISCLOSE Act forces some entities to inform the public about the origins of their financial support, while allowing others--most notably those affiliated with organized labor--to fly below the Federal Election Commission's regulatory radar.

My colleagues are aware that I have a long history of fighting for campaign finance reform and to break the influence of money in American politics. Regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court may do or say, I continue to be proud of my record because I believe the cause to improve our democracy and further empower the citizens of our country was and continues to be worth fighting for.

But let's be clear. Reforms that we have successfully enacted over the years have not cured all the public cynicism about the state of politics in our country. No legislative measure or Supreme Court decision will completely free politics from influence peddling or the appearance of it. But I do believe that fair and just reforms will move many Americans, who have grown more and more disaffected from the practices and institutions of our democracy, to begin to get a clearer understanding of whether their elected representatives value their commitment to our Constitution more than their own incumbency.

For far too long, money and politics have been deeply intertwined. Anyone who has ever run for a Federal office will assure us of the fact that candidates come to Washington not seeking wisdom or ideas but because they need help raising money. The same candidates will most likely tell us they are asked one question when they announce they are going to seek office. Unfortunately, it is not how they feel about taxes or what is their opinion of the role of government. No, the question they are asked is: How are you going to raise the money? Couple that sad reality with the dawn of the super PAC spending from corporate treasuries and record spending by big labor and one can easily see a major scandal is not far off, and there will be a scandal, mark my words. The American people know it and I know it.

Reform is necessary, but it must be fair and just and this legislation is not. I say that from many years of experience on this issue.

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Tom McGinty and Brody Mullins, titled ``Political Spending by Unions Far Exceeds Direct Donations,'' noted that organized labor spent about four times as much on politics and lobbying as originally thought--$4.4 billion from 2005 to 2011. According to the Wall Street Journal's analysis, unions are spending far more money on a wider range of political activities than what is reported to the Federal Election Commission. The report plainly states:

This kind of spending, which is on the rise, has enabled the largest unions to maintain and in some cases increase their clout in Washington and state capitals, even though unionized workers make up a declining share of the workforce. The result is that labor could be a stronger counterweight than commonly realized to ``super PACs'' that today raise millions from wealthy donors, in many cases to support Republican candidates and causes.

The hours spent by union employees working on political matters were equivalent in 2010 to a shadow army much larger than President Obama's current re-election staff, data analyzed by the Journal show.

The report goes on to note:

Another difference is that companies use their political money differently than unions do, spending a far larger share of it on lobbying, while not undertaking anything equivalent to unions' drives to persuade members to vote as the leadership dictates. Corporations and their employees also tend to spread their donations fairly evenly between the two major parties, unlike unions, which overwhelmingly assist Democrats. In 2008, Democrats received 55 percent of the $2 billion contributed by corporate PACs and company employees, while labor unions were responsible for $75 million in political donations, with 92 percent of it going to Democrats.

The traditional measure of unions' political spending--reports filed by the FEC--undercounts the effort unions pour into politics because the FEC reports are mostly based on donations unions make to individual candidates from their PACs, as well as spending on campaign advertisements.

Unions spend millions of dollars yearly paying teams of political hands to contact members, educating them about election issues and trying to make sure they vote for union-endorsed candidates.

Such activities are central to unions' political power: The proportion of members who vote as the leadership prefers has ranged from 68 percent to 74 percent over the past decades at AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, according to statistics from the labor federation.

Additionally, a February 22, 2012, Washington Post article, titled ``Union Spending for Obama, Democrats Could Top $400 million in 2012 Election.'' AFSCME reportedly expects to spend $100 million ``on political action, including television advertising, phone banks and member canvassing, while the SEIU plans to spend at least $85 million in 2012.

With that analysis, combined with the $1.1 billion the unions reported to
the FEC from 2005 to 2011, and the additional $3.3 billion unions reported to the Labor Department over the same period on political activity, the need for equal treatment of political advocacy under the law becomes readily apparent. I repeat, the need for equal treatment of political advocacy under the law becomes readily apparent.

Given the strength and political muscle behind all these figures, it is easy to understand why disclosure may sound nice, but unless the treatment is completely fair, taking into account the diverse nature and purpose of different types of organizations, disclosure requirements will likely be used to give one side a political advantage over another. That is just one of the flaws of the bill before us today.

The DISCLOSE Act would have little impact on unions because of the convenient thresholds for reporting. But it would have a huge effect on associations and other advocacy groups. From my own experience, I can state without question that real reform--and, in particular, campaign finance reform--will never be attained without equal treatment of both sides. A half dose of campaign finance reform will be quickly--and rightly--labeled as political favoritism and will undermine future opportunities for true progress. Furthermore, these sorts of games and measures will only make the American people more cynical and have less faith in what we do.

The authors of this bill insist it is fair and not designed to benefit one party over the other. Sadly, the stated intent doesn't comport with the facts. The DISCLOSE Act is written to burden labor unions significantly less than the other groups. In the United States, there are roughly 14 million to 16 million union members, each of whom is required to pay dues to its local union chapter. Historically, these local union chapters send a portion of their revenues up to their affiliated larger ``international'' labor unions. And while each union member's dues may be modest, the amounts that ultimately flow up to the central political arms are vast. The DISCLOSE Act protects this flow of money in two distinct ways: No. 1, organizations that engage in political conduct are only required to disclose payments to it that exceed $10,000 in a 2-year election cycle, meaning the local union chapter will not be required to disclose the payments of individual union members to the union even if those funds will be used for political purposes.

What is the final difference between one $10,000 check and 1,000 $10 checks? Other than the impact on trees, very little. So why should one be free from having to disclose its origin?

No. 2, the bill exempts from the disclosure requirements transfers from affiliates that do not exceed $50,000 for a 2-year election cycle. As a result, unions would not have to disclose the transfers made to it by many of its smaller local chapters. Given the contrast between union and corporate structures, this would allow unions to fall beneath the bill's threshold limits. For local union chapters, this anonymity is probably pretty important because, among other effects, it prevents union chapter members from learning how much of their dues payments are being used on political activities.

While the exemptions outlined in the DISCLOSE Act may be facially applied to business organizations and associations, it is apparent to me the unions' unique pyramid-style, ground-up, money-funneling structure would allow unions to not be treated equally by the DISCLOSE Act. Unlike unions, most organizations do not have thousands of local affiliates where they can pull up to $50,000 in ``affiliate transfers.''

I have been involved in the issue of campaign finance reform for most of my career. I am proud of my record. I am supportive of measures which call for full and complete disclosure of all spending in Federal campaigns. I reaffirmed this commitment by submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding campaign finance reform along with the author of the DISCLOSE Act. This bill falls short. The American people see it for what it is: Political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.

My former colleague from Wisconsin, Senator Feingold, and I set out to eliminate the corrupting influence of soft money and to reform how our campaigns are paid for. We vowed to be truly bipartisan and to do nothing which would give one party a political advantage over the other. The fact is this gives one party an advantage over the other.

I say with great respect to the Senator from Rhode Island, the way I began campaign finance reform is I found a person on the other side of the aisle who was willing to work with me, and we worked together on campaign finance reform. The Senator from Rhode Island and the sponsors of this bill have no one on this side of the aisle. By not having anyone on this side of the aisle, the Senator from Rhode Island has now embarked on a partisan enterprise.

I suggest strongly to the sponsors of the bill--if they are serious about campaign finance reform and about curing the evils going on now--they approach Members on this side of the aisle and make sure our concerns about the role of labor unions in this financing of political campaigns are addressed as well.

It is too bad--it is too bad--that Members on that side of the aisle are now orchestrating a vote which is strictly partisan in nature when they know full well the only way true campaign finance reform will ever be enacted by the Congress is in a bipartisan fashion. This is a partisan bill, and I am disappointed we are wasting the time of the Senate on a bill--and on a cause that is of utmost importance, in my view--in a partisan fashion.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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