Today in the U.S. Senate, partisan politics prevailed over the public interest as all Republican senators marched in lockstep to the orders of Republican party leaders and blocked a vote on the DISCLOSE Act (S. 3628). The failure of even a single Republican senator to vote for debate and consideration of the bill means there will be no disclosure of who is behind the expected onslaught of corporate spending in the 2010 elections – an onslaught created by the recent disastrous Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Voters will be left clueless as to who is funding the “independent” TV ads promoting and attacking candidates and how much these secretive funders are paying for these ads.
This lack of disclosure is exactly what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the national Republican Party want. This is partisan politics at its worst.
Several Republican members of Congress have a long history of supporting transparency when it comes to money in politics, though none in the Senate displayed that sense today. The issue is not whether there is a Republican member of Congress who supports disclosure – there are plenty – but whether one or more of these public officials are willing to stand for this principle against the wishes of national Republican Party leaders.
Public Citizen strongly encourages these members to show once again the leadership and independence for which they are well-respected. They should revisit the DISCLOSE Act following the August recess and vote at long last to bring all this special interest money out from the shadows for the next election.
Wall Street and the insurance industry – angered by the efforts of the current Congress to rein in corporate abuses – are gearing up to finance a tsunami of TV commercials expected to favor Republicans and attack Democrats in the 2010 elections. Sen. McConnell and his fellow Republican senators see this expected wave of campaign spending on the behalf of Republican candidates as their party’s best hope of taking back Congress. Short-term political calculations thus underlie today’s party-line vote against full disclosure of the funding of campaign ads.
The DISCLOSE Act will not fade away. Recent polls show that eight in 10 Americans oppose the Citizens United decision, and just as many strongly favor full transparency of money in politics. Americans are likely to be repulsed by the wave of campaign attack ads, paid for by unnamed sources, and will once again demand full disclosure.
Public Citizen firmly supports swift ratification of a strong DISCLOSE Act. But Public Citizen will also continue encouraging Congress to advance bolder measures to address the Citizens United decision, including:
• providing candidates with substantial public financing for their campaigns to help offset new corporate spending in elections (H.R. 1826 and S. 751, known as the “Fair Elections Now Act”);
• requiring that corporate expenditures in politics be approved by a majority of outstanding shareholders (H.R. 4790, known as the “Shareholder Protection Act”); and
• promoting a constitutional amendment that clarifies that First Amendment protections do not apply to for-profit corporations, except for legitimate media organizations, and that corporations therefore do not have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence election outcomes.
The American public deserves no less.
Craig Holman is the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.