It may not be as sexy as a constitutional amendment, but one effective way to fight back against the onslaught of money in our electoral system is to shine light on the people funding the races and the issue ads driving the debate.
Citizens United rightly gets derided as opening the floodgates to this cash, the decision did one thing right: it reaffirmed the constitutionality of laws that require the disclosure of the identities of political donors. The problem, of course, is that in reaffirming the disclosure laws the Supreme Court also gave wealthy donors an out by sanctioning the use of dark money via Super PAC’s. Congress tried to tackle the issue of dark money disclosure last year with the DISCLOSE Act. Republicans blocked the bill the first time around, but Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (D-MD) has introduced a new version of the bill that would not be too late for the general election.
Van Hollen’s bill would maximize and expedite disclosure of information about individuals and corporations contributing money during political campaign seasons. Some might be bankrolling ads that clearly endorse or oppose a candidate; others might be spending on “electioneering communications” that mention the name of a candidate without explicitly advocating his election or defeat. It doesn’t matter. Van Hollen’s proposal covers them all. The non-partisan consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen came out in strong support of the measure and offered this statement:
Public Citizen heartily applauds Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) effort to lift the veil of secrecy that cloaks who is buying our elections. He introduced a straightforward measure today that would reveal the origins of secretive corporate slush funds that flood American elections. The stripped-down version of the DISCLOSE Act would require all entities that make campaign expenditures, including third-party front groups, to disclose the sources of those funds.
At this critical time when the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted unlimited corporate money to flood our elections – thanks to its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – we no longer have a meaningful disclosure law in place. The DISCLOSE Act closes the gaping loopholes in current disclosure laws that allow corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to hide their campaign spending by funneling their money through innocuous-sounding front groups. It is both a travesty and betrayal of the professed principles of the many in Congress who claim to support open government and honest elections that the majority of congressional Republicans continue to block transparency of money in politics. Many Republicans supported transparency until very recently.
Public Citizen calls upon all members of Congress to stand true to their principles and bring this new corporate money out of the shadows.
This latest version is a step in the right direction and would bring some much needed daylight into our campaigns. Voters deserve to be informed, not misled, and they have a right to know who is behind efforts to mislead them. It’s all a part of being an informed citizen. Contact your Representative and tell them to support the DISCLOSE Act. It’s time we got to see just who is trying to buy our elections.
Photo from Tracy O via flickr.