With the Koch Brothers and many others spending untold millions to secretly influence this year's elections, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senate Democrats today introduced the DISCLOSE Act of 2014. The bill would crack down on so-called "dark money" by requiring organizations that spend money to influence elections to disclose their spending as well as their major sources of funding in a timely manner.
The legislation is cosponsored by 50 Senators, including Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN), and Angus King (I-ME).
"Since the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision, a torrent of dark money has swept through our political system, giving corporations and billionaires the ability to secretly buy election influence. The DISCLOSE Act will require political groups to list publicly their big donors, so voters can at least know who is trying to sway their opinions," said Whitehouse. "Our Republican colleagues have a history of supporting disclosure of election spending, and this bill will give them a chance to show the American people where they stand: with the individual voters they were sent here to represent, or with the billionaires and the corporations seeking to buy our democracy."
"Dark money is casting a shadow over our political process and the Supreme Court is setting this country on a path back to the days of the robber barons," said Schumer. "We need to pass the DISCLOSE Act to ensure that anonymous special interests can't buy elections right out from underneath the average voter."
"We know disclosure laws can work because they do work for individual Americans donating directly to political campaigns. When an individual gives money directly to a political candidate, that donation is not hidden. It is publicly disclosed," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said. "By passing the DISCLOSE Act, we can restore transparency and accountability to campaign finance laws by ensuring that all Americans know who is paying for campaign ads."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, election spending from undisclosed sources in the 2012 election cycle topped $310 million--a dramatic increase from the $69 million in 2008, the last presidential election cycle before the Citizens United decision. This year, outside groups have run 90 percent of the television ads in the North Carolina race, and 87 percent in Michigan, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Many of these ads mislead voters and give no indication who is supporting or opposing the candidates.
The DISCLOSE Act requires any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more. Transfer provisions in the bill prevent donors from using shell organizations to hide their activities.
"New Mexico voters and all Americans deserve to know who's behind the flood of dark money that has been poured into campaigns since Citizens United," Udall said. "There's a lot we need to do to fix campaign finance. The ideas in the DISCLOSE Act have received broad support from both parties. Passing this bill would be a strong first step to help restore Americans' faith in our election system."
"Right now, the voices of ordinary Americans and North Carolinians are being drowned out by a flood of secret money from shadowy special interests," said Senator Hagan. "The amount of anonymous campaign funds spent by special interest groups to influence our political elections is growing at an alarming rate. Americans deserve a campaign finance system that is transparent and just, and information on who is funding political advocacy should be readily available to the public so voters can make fully informed decisions when they head to the ballot box. The DISCLOSE Act would take a step in the right direction by ensuring accountability and transparency in our electoral system."
"Colorado families have to endure one attack ad after another from political groups, many of them with phony names and supported by undisclosed donors," Bennet said. "The few people who control these groups are setting the parameters for a debate that's completely disconnected with the challenges and concerns of Colorado families. If you're spending money on these ads, you ought to have to say who you are. The Supreme Court has said that it's constitutional to require that kind of disclosure. This bill will restore some accountability and transparency and restore some power to the voters."
"Because of Citizens United, deep-pocketed corporations and special interests can flood our elections with money--often anonymously--drowning out the voices of middle-class Americans who don't have the luxury of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the process," said Franken. "The public has every right to know who is bankrolling elections, and the DISCLOSE Act will bring some much-needed transparency to our political system."
"The perfect storm of recent Supreme Court decisions has ushered a flood of dark money into our political system, and it makes the American people question the integrity of our political process and erodes public confidence in Congress and in us as elected officials," Senator King said. "The only way to fix it in the short-term is to require immediate and complete disclosure of contributions so that the American people can see exactly who is trying to influence their vote. This should not be a partisan issue. The very future of our democracy depends on it."